NHS Digital has announced a new primary care data collection service, which will make near-real-time information and data available with a purpose to support healthcare planning and medical research.
For over a decade, the organisation has been collecting data from GPs to meet bespoke data requests, through its trusted General Practice Extraction Service (GPES). But this is now being replaced by the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) service, which is intended to enable faster access to pseudonymised patient data, for both planners and researchers.
The announcement comes after a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in the need for GP data to support clinicians, researchers, academic and commissioners. Data was used to help improve health and care services, and is areas such as research, trials, the vaccine roll-out and identifying those most vulnerable to coronavirus.
NHS Digital was legally directed to collect and analyse healthcare information about patients, including from GP records, for the duration of the coronavirus emergency period but says that the current collection system (GPES) is based on ‘legacy technology’.
With data set to continue to be an important asset in planning services and in researching conditions such as long COVID, and as demand on NHS services increases, NHS Digital says it has been ‘legally directed’ by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to establish a ‘new strategic system’ to collect and provide access to data from GP practices.
NHS Digital has issued a Data Provision Notice to GPs to enable the new data collection process to begin from 1 July.
Sarah Wilkinson, NHS Digital CEO, said: “General Practice data is particularly rich and valuable because many illnesses are treated predominantly in primary care. We want to ensure that this data is made available for use in planning NHS services and in clinical research, but it is critical that we do this in such a way that patient confidentiality and trust is prioritised and never compromised.”
“We have therefore designed technical systems and processes which incorporate pseudonymisation at source, encryption in transit and in situ, and rigorous controls around access to data to ensure appropriate use. We also seek to be as transparent as possible in how we manage this data so that the quality of our services are constantly subject to external scrutiny.
“I am proud that NHS Digital is making NHS data work for all of us who depend on the NHS.”
Matthew Gould, CEO for NHSX, added: “Throughout the pandemic, healthcare data has been used in new ways to care for people and save lives.
“Information from primary care has driven safer and more joined-up care, sped up life-saving research and helped us to understand, anticipate and solve problems facing our critical services.
“I welcome NHS Digital’s work to ensure data helps the NHS give the safest, highest quality care it can as we enter the long recovery period, while keeping that data safe and protecting patient privacy.”
According to NHS Digital, GPDPR has been designed to ‘the most rigorous privacy and security standards’ and the organisation has consulted with patient and privacy groups, clinicians, and technology experts in this area, as well as with the British Medical Association (BMA), Royal College of GPs (RCGP), the National Data Guardian (NDG) and other organisations and communities across the health and care system.
Data which directly identifies an individual will be pseudonymised and encrypted before it leaves GP practices, while data will only be shared with organisations who meet strict criteria to use it for ‘local, regional and national planning, policy development, commissioning, public health and research purposes’.
Patients can also opt-out at any time by requesting that their GP practice record their preference, known as a Type 1 opt out, or by registering their opt-out through the National Data Opt Out service on nhs.uk.
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty also commented on the news, stating: “The health and care system is increasingly governed by data, which has proved its worth throughout the pandemic. Better access to primary care data will give the NHS the ability to make the best use nationally of the richly-valuable and high-quality data that is collected in every GP practice.”
Find out more about the new GP data collection service at digital.nhs.uk.