Will the government really penalise GPs whose patients opt out of data sharing?


It seems the government has found a way to dissuade GPs from letting patients opt out of having their medical records sold to private firms – the threat of penalties or even an investigation into the way they run their practice.

Vox Political revealed earlier this month that the government is planning to make a profit from selling the private records of NHS patients in England to healthcare and pharmaceutical firms.

The records are said to be ‘anonymised’, but in fact anyone buying your details will be able to identify you.

The system, originally called the General Patient Extraction Service (GPES), now the Health and Social Care Information Centre, may also be described as the care.data scheme. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants you to think the information will be used for medical research and screening for common diseases, but in fact it could be used by private health companies as evidence of failures by the National Health Service, and could help them undercut NHS bids to continue running those services – accelerating the privatisation that nobody wanted.

Patients have the right to withhold their data, but they must specifically inform their medical practice of their wishes. This is why medConfidential created a web page containing a special opt-out form, along with a form letter in various formats, allowing patients to opt out themselves, their children and any adults for whom they are responsible.

Now GPs are living in fear of reprisals if they don’t deliver enough details to the new system.

According to GPonline.com, Health minister Dr Daniel Poulter failed to rule out penalising GP practices with a higher-than-average proportion of patients opting out of new NHS data sharing arrangements.

In a written answer to Labour MP and health select committee member Rosie Cooper, Dr Poulter also refused to say what level of patient opt-out from the scheme would trigger an investigation.

Asked whether practices would be penalised, who would investigate practices with a high opt-out rate, and at what threshold this would apply, Mr Poulter said: “NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre will work with the BMA, the RCGP, the Information Commissioner’s Office and with the Care Quality Commission to review and work with GP practices that have a high proportion of objections on a case-by-case basis.”

Ms Cooper took this as an admission that GPs were “being threatened and bullied into ensuring patients don’t choose to opt-out”.

Reacting on Twitter, NHS national director for patients and information Tim Kelsey ruled out fines for practices where large numbers of patients opt not to share data. He wrote: “Nobody is going to get fined if patients opt out.”

None of this offers a good reason for you to leave your medical records unprotected – in fact, it gives you more reasons to opt out than before, and might provide GPs with the excuse they need to retaliate.

Doctors have been pushed further and further by the Conservative-led government’s changes to the NHS. For example, they were told they would have a greater say in where the money went, as members of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), but that was not true – they don’t have the time to take part in such decisions so they have been handed over to firms that are often part of the private companies now offering services to the NHS (for a price).

Now they are being told they may face reprisals if they do not betray the principle of doctor-patient confidentiality.

But you can only push a person a certain distance before they push back.

How will NHS doctors in England respond?

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21 thoughts on “Will the government really penalise GPs whose patients opt out of data sharing?

  1. Colin M. Taylor

    I received the official Leaflet yesterday, advising me that I could opt out. When I spoke to the Practice Manager today, she was unaware that the leaflets were being sent out yet – she knew they were due to be sent but not when. She advised me that the practice would be having a meeting about it this after noon, in consultation with the GPs. I got the distinct impression that she’s not at all happy about this latest money-grubbing scheme from the Tories

  2. nicosuavehh

    if the government were going to be penalising GPs whose patients make the effort to opt-out — and it IS an effort; by default everybody is already opted-in — then several things would’ve already happened:
    • Government would not have permitted the NHS to print opt-out forms for GP offices.
    • Government would not have permitted GP practices to fashion their own opt-out forms.
    • If opt-out forms were discovered despite those 2 things, Government reps would have confiscated them or would have forced the people in charge of the NHS computer systems to auto-invalidate any opt-out forms entering their databases or file-folders.
    Since none of those things has happened, and since it is in fact it is not illegal for GP practices to possess and to hand out opt-out forms upon request, then belated Government actions to come down on GPs because of the opt-out forms that Government were complicit in, would be blatantly illegal. Too illegal, in fact, even for the Conservatives to abide.
    So I’m sorry, but for anyone who thinks that opt-out forms are somehow ‘doing what the government doesn’t want you to do and avoiding arrest or a citation of illegality to boot, ha ha I’m so clever’, stop deluding yourselves– opt-out forms, while indeed they aren’t what the Government wants you to do, are not in fact a sleight of hand, and you aren’t being a ninja in the night by filling one out. It’s above-board and legal. Sorry to spoil anyone’s V For Vendetta fantasy…

    1. Mike Sivier

      You’re not spoiling anyone’s fantasy. The article makes it perfectly clear that the best thing to do is protect your information.

      The fear remains that the Tories will take action of some kind on practices where an arbitrary ‘too many’ patients have opted out. You can’t argue against what was said in answer to a Parliamentary question.

      The only real issue for debate is what the government will decide to do.

    2. Sickofemall

      So nicosuavehh.you do what you want with your info that’s up to you but don’t come on with the vendetta crap.
      Its not their info to sell what part of confidential don’t you get .

  3. jaypot2012

    We don’t have that problem in Scotland at the moment – indeed, my family are all in North Wales and are convinced that they don’t need to take action either.
    Even though I am in Scotland I have still got a letter on my notes which states that I do not agree to my records being sold or given to any healthcare company or anyone outside the NHS itself. They can have my notes when I’ve been dead for 30 years 🙂

  4. Joseph Smith

    I’ll be opting out. I will not be pushed around some jumped up Eton educated pink faced son of a bitch politician. Go feck yourselves. You dictatorial b……ds

  5. Neil

    I cannot see how they could possibly “fine” GPs for their patients opting out.

    Yes, they will want to find practices who have “opted out” most or all of their patients.

    But if a practice has been providing at least the standard (albeit inadequate) NHSE poster and booklet, then I cannot see what they could do.

    If they did try anything, I think GP anger would boil over.


    1. Mike Sivier

      Are you actually involved in this scheme? And you think that “GP anger would boil over” in the circumstances you describe?

      It strikes me that you can tell us what possible good is likely to come from a move that provokes the anger of both patients and GPs.

      As far as I can see, the pretext for this is so flimsy as to be inconsequential. What’s the real purpose?

  6. aussieeh

    I always thought the sale of private and confidential documents to a foreign power was Treason. Mind you, Parliament is full of the most Treacherous Scum to have ever parked their bone idle backsides on its benches, Churchill must be spinning in his grave. Unfortunately not all of them are Tory.

  7. pat

    my hubby & i have opted out, the receptionist at our GP practice said they have received loads of requests from patients to opt out

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  10. Tony Browne

    absolutely disgraceful,what this evil ‘government’ is trying to do!!one GP describes this as living in a Stalinist Russia .correct!!!!

  11. Evangeline

    Hi There – having only fairly recently found out about the extent of this absolutely insane development, i have been hard pushed to find out if this or any part of it will affect Scotland?. – Strangely over the last few months we have been experiencing complete computer ‘shutdowns’ at our local Health Centres.To the extent that NO patients files could even be accessed, Also at a local Hospital on the same two days, again NO patients files could be accessed, and patients were turning up for appts, surgery etc… to be told to go home again, because of the complete ‘blackout’ of the Computers! …I bloody well smell a rat, a very big one at that! and when i asked what had caused this, no-one, Drs’, Practice Manager etc … had no answers.

    I would be grateful, if you could let me know, if in any way at present, there are any proposals to roll this out in Scotland, altho if not now, i would assume this wouldn’t be too far off in the future! . Great blog by the way!! Cheers! 🙂

    1. Mike Sivier

      Best guess is that there are no plans to roll it out in Scotland, as long as Scotland doesn’t have a Conservative-led Parliament. In other words, I reckon you’re safe. Here in Wales our situation is a little more precarious.

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