GP practices in Milton Keynes have been instructed by the NHS to hand over confidential patient records despite growing concerns about privacy.
This is all part of a nationwide data-sharing scheme by NHS Digital whereby patient data from the past decade is extracted - including people's treatments, referrals and appointments.
Under the proposals, it means external databases will be full of patient data for "planning and research" purposes. These databases, although secure, will be shared with external parties.
The NHS has sought to reassure the public and says that in order to protect patient identities, the collected data is coded by NHS Digital.
"Any data which directly identifies an individual will be pseudonymised and then encrypted before it leaves a GP practice," a spokesperson for NHS Digital explains.
"Data will only be shared with organisations who have a legal basis and meet strict criteria to use it for local, regional, and national planning, policy development, commissioning, public health and research purposes."
Data extraction was due to start in July but has been pushed back to 1st September 2021 so that work can be done to "ensure that data is accessed securely."
This controversial move has sparked privacy concerns among GP surgeries, with the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) saying the plans have been brought in too early without enough patient consultation.
A London-based GP told The Guardian: "This data grab is unwarranted, unparalleled in its scale and implications and quite possibly unlawful. Yet NHS Digital, acting at the government’s request, has downplayed the significance of the move. There has been no public awareness campaign, so you’d be forgiven for not knowing that your consent is assumed."
Those who wish for their data to remain at their GP practice and not be shared have to opt-out before 1st September 2021.
You can opt-out by visiting the NHS website and filling out a form, which can be accessed here.
Alternatively, you can fill out this form and hand it into your GP practice. It also gives you the opportunity to fill it out on behalf of your dependents. The deadline for filling out this form and handing it in is a week before the 1st September, according to the NHS.
If you do not have a printer but wish to fill out the form you can call 0300 303 5678 (the NHS Digital Contact Centre) who will then post the forms to you.