Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

UK's 'Vast Database'

In a plan that is certain to spur 'big brother' worries from the UK's privacy activists, the National Health Service will take the health records from everyone in the country, pool them into a vast database, and make their medical information available to researchers and pharmaceutical companies.

The Telegraph reports that every household in Britain will soon receive letters explaining that, starting this April, their medical histories will be opened up to scientists and drug developers – unless they opt out – to sort through for clues to diseases, track leads for new treatments, and identify outbreaks early.

Some of the nation's biggest biomedical research charities have chimed in to support the NHS plan, including Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, and the British Heart Foundation.

Although the information will be uploaded into the NHS data base automatically, as patients' general practitioners will deposit the data with NHS, CRUK is urging people not to opt out, and trying to allay concerns about how their information will be used. Patients also may opt to have certain identifying information removed from their medical data.

"The choices you make could affect medical research, your chances of being invited to join a clinical trial, and how the NHS is run," CRUK says.
A group called medConfidential wants to throw cold water on the plan.

"It’s no surprise NHS England has engaged charities to promote its new scheme, while playing down the non-medical, non-research organizations and companies outside the NHS which will also be given access," medConfidential's Phil Booth says.

"Research might be one of the more palatable uses for the deeply personal information that is to be taken, but it’s far from the only one."

Even those who support the plan know that there is the potential that patient information could be vulnerable to targeting by hackers or criminal elements, but say it is worth the risk.

"I don't think anyone would say there is not a risk. But you can walk into a hospital and pick up notes at any time. People don’t because they are of very limited use outside of medical research. The benefits are enormous and the risks are small," BHF Medical Director Peter Weissberg says.