At the start of October, the Department of Health took away your ability to opt out via your GP from having information about you, collected by the rest of the NHS, being used for purposes beyond your direct care. (The option to prevent information from your GP record leaving your GP practice remains. For now.) The new process is so ‘hip and digital’ that you also have to use the Royal Mail if you wish to make a consent choice for your children, as well as visiting your GP practice to make a choice for your GP data that the online process tells you nothing about.
Is this Matt Hancock’s view of a digital NHS?
We are testing a new trifold to guide families through expressing their full opt out choices –which is now a three step process: online, post box, and at the GP. This may be simpler for NHS Digital, but it’s a lot harder for you – a choice with which Matt Hancock seems to be entirely happy.
NHS Digital was apparently very proud that more people opted in via the digital service than opted out in its first 2 months – though sending out 1.6 million letters could be said to have stacked the scales somewhat – but that represents at most a few hundred people a month, whereas 5,000-10,000 people a month were still opting out via their GP until the Secretary of State took that choice away from you.
We have previously given a commitment that there will be a functional digital opt-out process for patients, and that if NHS Digital wasn’t going to deliver one, then medConfidential would have to (though this will likely be very analogue on their side…).
Data rights and proper information can together empower every patient and citizen to have more confidence in those who use their data. NHS Digital seems to want to make it more complicated. Though official information is published in various forms, in various places, the only way a patient can currently read how their wishes were respected is to visit TheySoldItAnyway.com
If you didn’t receive a letter from NHS Digital about the new ‘National Data Opt-out’, and since you’re reading this on our website, you should check the online process to see if your choice disappeared somewhere in the machine (and, if so, to set it to what you want). You’ll then need to set it for your children too by post – and at your GP, for your GP data, to ensure that too is set.
Consultation Responses, etc.
With the National Data Guardian Bill having its second reading in the Lords this week, medConfidential has published a letter of support for the Bill. Meanwhile, the Organ Donation Bill contains a supposed safeguard that is overly complex and will not provide reassurance to those who wish to see how their organs will be used after death. We have drafted an amendment for the Lords to fix the broken Bill, if the Commons does not.
As part of the next piece of NHS legislation, the National Data Opt-out should be placed on a statutory footing. The next legislation will likely be the result of NHS England’s consultation on “integrated care providers” (our response) and the “long term plan” (our response), which also referenced the need to reform invoice reconciliation.
Our friends at dotEveryone published their views on digital harms and responsible technology, suggesting that data and ethics in Government should be led by someone “relatable … charismatic and imaginative”. Which would be better than the current person, whose company created the problems around commercial abuses of data in the NHS, and which is still causing problems 20 years later. The current ‘imagination’ at CDEI (the ‘Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation’) seems to be to repeat the sort of data sale scandals in Government they already caused in the NHS. The Information Commissioner also sought views on a ‘regulatory sandbox’, where companies can experiment with personal data – we had views.
Data use across the rest of Government has also been keeping us occupied. Our evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee contains some new thinking on the failures of agile in public bodies. Some of that thinking was also in our response to the call for evidence ahead of the UK visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, who is looking at algorithms and digital effects around Universal Credit.
Data and the rule of law
The data sharing powers under the Digital Economy Act 2017 are still not fully in force. This did not prevent the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) demanding data on every homeless person in the country, such as in Camden. The secrecy of data use in such cases must be addressed by the UK Statistics Authority / Office for National Statistics – it is doubly disturbing that MHCLG used the research process to evade the scrutiny that would have applied via other routes.
Decisions by public bodies must, today, comply with the standards of the rule of law. As we move towards more automated decision-making, how will those standards be maintained?
The tech companies and their apologists want the approach to be one defined by ‘ethics’ – as if no tyrant ever failed to justify their crimes. “The computer says no” (or “DeepMind says no”) is wholly insufficient for suppliers of data processing functions to government making decisions about citizens.
All reputable companies will be entirely willing to explain how their “AI” systems arrive at the suggestions or decisions they make – including the (sources of) data on which they were trained. Disreputable companies will be evidenced by their failure or inability to do so.
Government Departments should deliver accountability to ‘their’ data subjects (currently they don’t). But beyond accountability to individuals on how data about them is used, there are standards that must be followed by institutions – especially those which govern.
The Venice Commission has produced a ‘Rule of Law checklist’, covering the context of decision-making. We’ll be taking a look at a couple of Government automated processing plans, and seeing how they conform – and how the checklist applies to digital projects, probably starting with Universal Credit and Settled Status, based on past work. We anticipate identifying holes in some of the frameworks currently used by Government, as compared with the standards required by the rule of law and judicial review. Comments are very welcome to sam@medConfidential.org.