You can read more about what happened by following the link above, but on 25 February the Secretary of State for Health confirmed to us in writing the operation of the opt out codes. The way the codes work has been fixed, and HSCIC has now published a page explaining exactly how they will work:
Also, as of 18 February, care.data uploads have been delayed for a further 6 months until September 2014. A number of ‘pilot’ practices – locations as yet unknown – may begin uploading patient data before then.
If you have any concerns about care.data – and if you haven’t done so already – our advice continues to be to opt out now. The latest delay changes nothing about the scheme, and NHS England seems to believe that its only problem is that it has failed to ‘communicate the benefits’ clearly enough!
Opt out form
In January 2014, NHS England sent out a leaflet entitled Better information means better care (2MB PDF) via junk mail. It was not addressed directly to you as a patient and it deliberately didn’t include an opt-out form. The leaflet says you should “speak to your GP practice” if you want to opt out. This is misleading and could waste your time and potentially waste valuable GP appointment time as well.
All you actually need do is write a letter or download a simple form (link below) instructing your doctor to opt you out, which you can fill in and post or drop into your surgery reception for their attention.
If you have any problems getting your surgery to understand what you are opting out of, or if they hand you an opt out form for something else, e.g. the Summary Care Record, then let us know using our handy formFix tool – you tell us, and we’ll send them some details.
Dr Neil Bhatia, a Hampshire GP, has written the text of a leaflet with a tear-off form that you can use for yourself, your minor children (i.e. children below the age of consent – older children must opt out for themselves) and anyone for whom you hold lasting power of attorney:
Please do take a few moments to e-mail this PDF to your family, friends and colleagues, or send them the link to this page – www.medconfidential.org/how-to-opt-out – or share it on social media. You might even print off copies of the form (which conveniently prints double-sided and folds to fit in a DL envelope) to give to others who may not have heard about what’s going to happen to their medical records, and won’t know what they can do.
Dr Bhatia also provides more information on the care.data scheme on his website: www.care-data.info
Under changes to legislation, your GP can now be required to upload personal and identifiable information from the medical record of every patient in England to central servers at the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Once this information leaves your GP practice, your doctor will no longer be in control of what data is passed on or to whom.
This information will include diagnoses, investigations, treatments and referrals as well as other things you may have shared with your doctor including your weight, alcohol consumption, smoking and family history. Each piece of information will be identifiable as it will be uploaded with your NHS number, date of birth, post code, gender and ethnicity.
NHS England – the body now in charge of commissioning primary care services across England – will manage and use the information extracted by the Health and Social Care Information Centre for a range of purposes, none of which are to do with your direct medical care. Though the official leaflets talk a great deal about research, these ‘secondary uses’ for which your data may be used include patient-level tracking and monitoring, audit, business planning and contract management.
In September 2013, NHS England applied to pass on your information in a form it admits “could be considered identifiable if published” to a whole range of organisations that include – but are not limited to – research bodies, universities, think tanks, “information intermediaries”, charities and private companies.
Though you may be told that any data passed on will be ‘anonymised’, no guarantees can be given as to future re-identification – indeed information is to be treated so that it can be linked to other data at patient level – and NHS England has already been given legal exemptions to pass identifiable data across a range of regional processing centres, local area teams and commissioning bodies that came into force on April 1st 2013. The Health and Social Care Information Centre already provides access to patient data, some in identifiable form, to a range of ‘customers’ outside the NHS, including private companies.
So what can I do?
ACT NOW! If you do not want confidential, identifiable information from your medical records to be uploaded and passed on for purposes other than your medical care you can opt out by telling your doctor. You don’t have to book an appointment to do this, you can simply send a letter.
As an alternative to the form above, we provide a letter in Microsoft Word (.doc) format, editable Rich Text (.rtf) format and as an Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) PDF for you to fill in and send to your doctor. We have updated this letter so that you can use it to opt out your children or adults for whom you are legally responsible as well.
Simply click on one of the links below to download and print off a copy, fill in your details and the details of your minor children (i.e. children below the age of consent – older children must opt out for themselves) and/or anyone for whom you hold lasting power of attorney, sign it and send it to your GP:
Opting out will not affect the care you receive and you can change your mind at any point and opt back in if you like. Opting out will not prevent your GP from being paid for care provided – information needed for those payments should only leave the practice in summary (i.e. anonymous) form.
If you have any specific concerns, we recommend you speak with your GP.
As you will see from the letter, there are TWO codes that your doctor will need to add to your record – one to prevent your information being uploaded from the GP practice, and one to stop the Health and Social Care Information Centre from passing on any identifiable data it gathers from any other care context, e.g. hospital records or clinics.
As of 25 February, we are confident the opt out codes have been fixed and will work as they should have done from the very beginning. To keep informed about ongoing issues, e.g. the location of the ‘pilot’ practices as that becomes known, please: