Last week, after months of (over)thinking about it, I sent my GP a letter, based on the excellent template by the tireless MedConfidential refusing consent for identifiable data from my electronic medical records to be transferred to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
I won’t rehearse the eloquent arguments against the current care.data proposals that you can read on MedConfidential’s site, and elsewhere (for instance GP Neil Bhatia’s excellent site). Nor will I rehearse arguments in favour. I have written about the subject in the past, and I don’t want to add to the general clamour. What I do want to say is why I have opted-out:
- I’ve been struck by the inaccuracy and disingenuousness of the information which is being given to us in support of care.data. We are told, for instance, that “Your date of birth, full postcode, NHS Number and gender rather than your name will be used to link your records in a secure system, managed by the HSCIC. Once this information has been linked, a new record will be created. This new record will not contain information that identifies you”. This is cleverly worded: it does not say (because it would not be true) that this data will be anonymised, but it certainly tries to give that impression.
- I have, ever since I first became aware of this issue, noted that there has been a lack of openness on the part of proponents. This has manifested itself in many ways, and people should be aware that the current leafleting campaign (as flawed as it is – note that it is not personally addressed to individuals, but simply sent to households, and doesn’t contain a form enabling people to opt-out) would not have come about were it not for concerns raised about this lack of openness.
- I’ve noted the emotive campaign launched by leading charities in support of the campaign. But I’ve also noted the response by MedConfidential which highlights that the charities’ campaign doesn’t draw attention to secondary usage of the information gathered, which could potentially be by pharmaceutical and other commerical companies, universities and other academic organisations, information intermediaries and think-tanks. On a general level, I do not think that amassing of personal data can ever be without potential risks and drawbacks, some of which include – the risk of breaches of data security, the risk of people failing to seek medical advice because of privacy fears, commercial use - and none of which are addressed in the charities’ campaign.
- Finally, and, for me, crucially, if I fail to opt-out now, I’ve lost my chance - my data once uploaded cannot be deleted. However, opting out now does not preclude opting in in future. So, should I subsequently become convinced that societal and individual benefits from this amassing of electronic personal data outweigh my strong concerns about privacy and consent, I can change my mind in a way I couldn’t if I failed to opt out now.