As the collection of health data becomes more common, the only effective pressure to keep it safe may come from patientsby Tola Onanuga / December 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
Rising concerns over private industry’s future in the UK’s healthcare sector has been further fuelled by the recent news that Amazon has been granted free access to NHS data to develop its products.
Last Friday, the campaign group Privacy International published details of the contract, which states the US company will be able to obtain all “healthcare information, including without limitation symptoms, causes, and definitions, and all related copyrightable content, data, information and other materials.” A spokesperson for Amazon has since responded, telling the Guardian that “General health-related content from the NHS website is now available to Alexa users via voice technology. The new option is particularly useful for those with accessibility needs who may not have been able to easily access nhs.uk content via a mobile device or computer in the past.”
Although individual patient data is apparently not included in the deal, the news shows how health data has become the new privacy battleground. The issue has also featured high up on the news agenda during the general election campaign, due to leaked documents which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has claimed reveal that the free flow of NHS data would be a “top priority” for US officials in any post-Brexit trade deal. The revelation provoked a storm of outrage from across the political spectrum, and Corbyn has demanded the US president, Donald Trump, provide assurances that the NHS “will truly be taken off the table”.
A £9.6bn problem?
Trump had already stoked fears earlier in the year that the NHS database, which holds the medical records of over 60 million people, might be sold off. He said he wanted the NHS to be considered in any potential deal, a claim he later retracted. The speculation over the NHS’s future has continued, however.
At the heart of the issue is the enormous value of NHS patient data, which is estimated to be worth £9.6bn per year, according to auditors Ernst & Young. Health apps are a booming business, particularly in the US, so it’s no great shock that Silicon Valley might want access to a treasure trove of data to develop their products.
Apps such as Babylon Health have become an increasingly popular way to monitor…