The NHS needs tighter protection for sensitive patient data, a healthcare official has said. According to John Williams, director of the health informatics unit at the Royal College of Physicians, the use of healthcare data sets must be “rigorously policed and safeguarded”. Furthermore, he insisted the uses of this information have to be closely monitored, Computer Weekly reports.
Speaking during a session of the government’s science and technology committee, he said: “If there are health datasets that linked with datasets from other sources, that should happen either with approval from an appropriate body or have consequences.” However, he insisted that any processes and regulations should not hamper efforts to improve clinical care.
For instance, he said the new European Union Data Protection Regulation could make it more difficult for scientists to access data for research purposes. Dame Fiona Caldicott, who was appointed as the national data guardian for health and care last year, is a keen advocate of sharing healthcare data.
However, she believes clinicians and patients both need to be informed about how this can be beneficial. “A crucial issue is how we explain to the public what health data is used for,” she said.
Dame Fiona therefore believes that building trust in the Care.data programme – an effort to bring together disparate sources of health and social care information to identify best practice – is a key issue. “We need to listen to the public much more than we have,” she said. Dame Fiona added that more work is required to get professionals behind the idea of sharing data, both as part of Care.data and in the NHS as a whole.