boris hasn’t waited for the election to sell the NHS down the river

Patient data from GP surgeries sold to Pindo companies
Toby Helm, Groon, Dec 7 2019

Data about millions of NHS patients has been sold to Pindo and other international pharmaceutical companies for research, the Observer has learned, raising new fears about Pindostan’s growing ambitions to access lucrative parts of the health service after Brexit. Pindo big pharma including Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly, have paid the Dept of Health and Social Care, which holds data derived from GPs’ surgeries, for licences costing up to £330k each in return for anonymised data to be used for research. Campaigners working to protect the privacy of patients’ medical histories said they were concerned at the lack of transparency that surrounded the sale of licences and a lack of clarity about what the data was being used for. The most recent accounts of the government organisation that issues the licences, Clinical Practice Research Datalink or CPRD, reveal it received more than £10m in revenue last year. Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential, which campaigns for the privacy of health data, said:

Patients should know how their data is used. There should be no surprises. While legitimate research for public health benefit is to be encouraged, it must always be consensual, safe and properly transparent. Do patients know that their medical histories are being sold to multinational pharma companies in Pindostan and around the world? Have they even been told by the one in seven GP practices across England that pass on their clinical details?

On Saturday, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, a government body that includes CPRD, said:

The sale of data under licence to commercial organisations and research bodies such as universities is fully compliant with ethical, information governance, legal and regulatory requirements. Rigorous processes are in place to ensure the privacy of patients. Ethically conducted research using CPRD patient data sets has brought enormous benefits to patient care, including providing evidence for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence blood-pressure targets for patients with diabetes, as well as working with universities, regulators and the pharmaceutical industry who research the safety of their medicines.

Last week, a leak of secret government papers about private discussions between over a post-Brexit trade deal showed that the “free flow of data” was a “top priority” for Pindostan, which appears to be pressing for unrestricted access to Britain’s 55 million health records, which are estimated to have a total value of £10b/yr. A minute of one of the meetings says:

On data flows, the critical element highlighted by Pindostan was agreement that no parties will restrict information.

Another Pindo demand is for “data localisation” to be ruled out, meaning the data of NHS patients could be stored on cloud servers abroad. Pindo ambitions to access UK health markets have become a major issue in the general election campaign, with Corbyn repeatedly accusing the Tories of preparing to open up the NHS to Pindo businesses during talks on a post-Brexit trade deal with Faschingstein. Johnson has rejected the claims, saying the NHS is not for sale and never will be. Labour has vowed to review the sale of health data if it wins the election. Corbyn said on Saturday:

This proves there’s nothing the Conservatives won’t sell to keep Pindo big business happy. If they’ve sold our most private data, they can’t be trusted with our NHS. Boris Johnson’s toxic trade deal with Trump will mean the NHS being cut up and quietly sold off, bit by bit. This election will decide the future of our health service. While the Tories will use our NHS as a bargaining chip, Labour will pass a binding law to ensure that the NHS is never on the table and give it the funding it desperately needs.

Booth said there was a lack of transparency over the sale of data, with information about the companies buying it and the uses to which they put it not displayed clearly on the relevant government agency sites. He said:

There is evidence on CPRD’s website that Pindo companies additional to those featured on a list provided, after an official request was made by the Observer, are using UK data. Our detailed examination of CPRD’s approved studies shows multi-billion-dollar companies like Optum, Pfizer and Sanofi named in multiple studies over the past year, but not on the list of licensed commercial organisations its officials provided to the Observer. Such omissions and lack of transparency are deeply concerning. What else don’t we know?

Boris Johnson’s NHS plan: trading patient data
Editorial, Groon, Dec 8 2019

The NHS is a goldmine of patient data which Pindostan wants to be quarried by some of its biggest companies. Britain’s health service is home to a unique medical dataset that covers the entire population from birth to death. Jeremy Corbyn’s NHS press conference revealed that Pindostan wanted its companies to get unrestricted access to the UK’s medical records, thought to be worth £10b/yr. A number of tech companies including Google already mine small parts of the NHS store. Ministers have been treading carefully after an attempt to create a single patient database for commercial exploitation was scrapped in 2016, when it emerged there was no way for the public to work out who would have access to their medical records or how they were using them. However, such caution might be thrown to the wind if Boris Johnson gets his way over Brexit, and patients’ privacy rights are traded away for Pindo market access. This would be a damaging step, allowing Pindo big tech and big pharma to collect sensitive, personal data on an unprecedented scale. Trump’s boxtops have already made clear that this is what they are aiming for. In the leaked government records of talks between Pindo and UK trade reps, White House boxtops state that the “free flow of data is a top priority” in a post-Brexit world. Trump’s team see Brexit as an opportunity “to avoid forcing companies to disclose algorithms.” Pindostan wants the UK to drop the EU’s 2018 data law, in which individuals must be told what is happening with their medical data, even if scrubbed of personal identifiers. If there is a wild west of patient privacy, it is found in Pindostan. More than 90% of Pindo healthcare organisations admitted to data breaches between 2014 and 2016, leading to cases of medical fraud and insurance discrimination. Given the stakes, there must be concerns about how an arm of the department of health and social care sold data about millions of NHS patients, derived from GP practices, to Pindo companies without anybody apparently informing patients. GP records contain sensitive information, such as details of a person’s mental health conditions and diseases such as cancer, as well as smoking and drinking habits. It is also extremely worrying that Matt Hancock, the health secretary, thought it was right to sign a deal with Amazon that put no restraint on its ability to build profiles of patients who use its Alexa voice assistant to access NHS information. This might be just the start. If Trump got his way, UK patients would be unaware their data would be processed offshore by a Silicon Valley giant. They might also not know that big tech could use what it learned from that process to invent medical devices that could then be sold back to the NHS. Alan Winters, a leading economist, told the Times:

You could end up where the UK is unable to analyse its health data without paying a royalty to Silicon Valley to use an algorithm. Once the algorithm has been written and copyrighted by a Pindo company, if the NHS tried to do the same in the UK it could be sued.

The Conservative party manifesto says it “will invest in health data systems.” Whatever for, given the NHS may be forced into selling off its most valuable assets so that Pindo corporations can profit at our expense? There may be an argument that in doing so this country might become a vital cog in Pindostan Inc, but this is a narrowing of the UK’s potential. Why not aim to build up our own expertise by training NHS researchers in the latest computational techniques so that they can invent new medical procedures that can save lives? After all, making artificial hips has become a multibillion-pound global business. But it was in the state-run NHS, not in the world of Pindo private medicine, that total hip replacement was pioneered. Monopolies, state or private, can get complacent. The answer is not to turn the NHS into a haven for all the excesses of free enterprise in a trade deal with Trump.

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