Saturday 18 January 2014

Time to consent to sharing our health data - by doing nothing

When should silence equal consent?

Every now and again, it may be necessary to disregard the mantra that silence never equals consent.

Those who have read the NHS leaflets that have been delivered to most households in the land will appreciate that something is going on. In the context of the current NHS information sharing programme, by doing nothing, information about the healthcare we have received will be used to help a range of organisations better understand the health needs of everyone, and the quality of the treatment and care provided.

And I’m very happy about this.

I do not wish to be required to fill in a form, or tick a box, or even blink an eye to indicate that I specifically consent to this particular processing purpose.


Because if I were to be expected to anything to indicate my consent, I’m sure that my own laziness would result in that consent not being delivered to the right person / institution. Nothing would happen.  I put off so many tasks, and throw away so many leaflets without responding to their “call for action”.

As do we all.

I’m very happy with the proposed arrangements, which is that if I don't like the NHS’s proposals, I should contact my GP practice and request that a record of my objection be made in a separate note on my medical record. This is a pragmatic and sensible approach.  I’ll actually have to do something if I really want to object to this processing purpose.

I’ve read a range of posts from bloggers and privacy campaigners who fear the consequences of consenting to their confidential health data being shared for the purposes currently proposed by the NHS.  A number of them currently do not wish their information to be shared. Some fear the risks of a personal information breach. Others don’t like public bodies sharing sensitive personal data with private companies that might profit from the data. But, to the extent that their concerns are valid, in my view the advantages of data sharing among relatively sensible healthcare stakeholders overwhelmingly outnumber the risks.

I wonder how many of the “no, never” brigade will actually expend the energy that is required to do contact their GP practice and object. Not many, I predict.

I want good health – and I’m very happy for my healthcare to be delivered, free, by the National Health Service. And in return, I want to ensure that the NHS has as much data as it needs to support the care of other patients, and society as a whole.  I trust the NHS. So I’m in.

I commend my actions to everyone else. Read the leaflet that dropped through your letterbox recently. And then relax.