According to YouGov, the UK public expect NHS patient data to be protected as a national asset that primarily benefits UK patients, the health service and the country as a whole.
The research shows only 13% of public trust tech multinationals with sensitive health data. This comes amidst significant public fear about international technology companies accessing people’s personal health information, and recognition of the need for patients to be able to opt out of having their data analysed if they choose.
Sharing NHS patient data anonymously is preferred
With growing interest in the potential for artificial intelligence to find solutions to complex health problems and relieve pressure on doctors and nurses, research by YouGov reveals that analysing anonymous, totally unidentifiable patient data for medical research purposes attracts widespread public support.
The research, funded by the Oxford-based health technology business Sensyne Health plc, found that three quarters of the public (76%) support the analysis of anonymous NHS patient data by medical researchers in order to develop better treatments and improve diagnosis, prevention of illness and care for patients.
Such research also enjoys overwhelming cross-party support, with 95% of MPs supporting this analysis to enable more effective treatment, and four fifths saying they would support it as a way to alleviate financial pressure on the NHS.
Lack of trust
However, public support is dampened by a lack of trust in allowing large international technology platform companies to exploit NHS patient data, rather than data being safeguarded and analysed in the UK.
In the survey, 86% of people called for the NHS gaining a fair share to be a priority for any analysis undertaken, with four fifths saying explicitly that the Government should act to ensure that the NHS and taxpayers stand to benefit above all.
MPs felt similarly, with 79% viewing NHS patient data to be a national resource and asset (rising to 87% of Labour MPs) and 80% calling on the Government to take formal steps to ensure that it is protected by law.
“Used only for research purposes, and never accessed or used inappropriately”
At present, there is no legislation or policy framework in place to achieve this, yet according to the polling, only 13% of the British public think multinational ‘big tech’ companies can be trusted to handle anonymous NHS patient data.
Commenting on the findings, Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said: “There’s little doubt that new technologies will play a part in delivering care in future, and the results from this study confirm that most people support the use of anonymised patient data for medical research purposes.
“There is also widespread support for data to be safeguarded and analysed in the UK – and the Patients Association agrees that data should be used only for research purposes, and never accessed or used inappropriately.”