Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Data Sharing

Should we be worried about the NHS selling patient data?

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 15 January 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m113
  1. Tom Moberly, UK editor
  1. The BMJ
  1. tmoberly{at}

The NHS hopes that sharing patients’ data with technology companies might improve services, but there are concerns about how decisions over data sharing are made. Tom Moberly reports

Who owns the NHS’s patient data?

There may be no meaningful answer to this. “Legally, there isn’t really such a thing as owning data,” explains Natalie Banner, lead on the Understanding Patient Data programme at the health research charity the Wellcome Trust. “Under UK data protection law, you can be a data controller, you can be a data processor, or you can be a data subject, the person the data are about.”

The NHS organisation that collects the data is usually the controller of those data, and any organisation that the NHS contracts to process the data would be classified as a data processor, Banner explains. As data subjects patients have rights concerning access to data held about them, and there must be a lawful basis for processing …

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