Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
Following the announcement by NHS Digital about the changes being introduced in England to the way that GP-held patient records are being collected and held centrally, and the subsequent media attention it has received, this written statement provides details about what is happening in terms of sharing health records in Wales.
To be very clear, the proposal reported in the media to collect data from GPs applies only in England. NHS Digital does not have any authority or responsibility in Wales. However, Welsh residents who are registered with GPs in England will need to opt out by 1 September if they do not want their data to be included. More information about England’s approach to General Practice Data for Planning and Research can be found here.
The Welsh Government and NHS Wales is committed to enhancing how we use health and care data, for example, to enable earlier identification of health problems for individuals, support better planning and delivery of health and care services, and provide a platform for health research. Access to large scale data is essential if we are to make use of artificial intelligence and other new digital analytics technologies.
Confidentiality of patient records and overall security of personal data will continue to be our priority.
We already have robust and well-regarded arrangements in place for approved researchers to gain secure access to health data through the SAIL Databank (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage). This is a world-class flagship for the secure storage and use of anonymised person-based data for ethical research purposes and has been an important part of our Covid-19 pandemic response. Access to this anonymised data is only granted for approved researchers, subject to strict ethical approval processes. The data can generally only be viewed and analysed through the secure SAIL Gateway. In the exceptional circumstances where the data does need to be transferred, it requires the explicit approval of the data owner.
To make health and care data more readily available to those who need it, Welsh Government is investing in the development of the National Data Resource (NDR). Sharing information efficiently and securely between health and care organisations is an important part of providing high quality care, for example when people move from one area to another, or receive treatment from different organisations.
We are committed to being transparent about privacy and the use of health and care data in Wales, and will be engaging with patients and the public as we further develop our proposals and next steps.