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News Briefing

Can the NHS successfully deliver its GP data extraction scheme?

BMJ 2021; 374 doi: (Published 03 September 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;374:n2170
  1. Helen Macdonald
  1. The BMJ

With the NHS’s flagship GP data extraction programme facing further delays, Helen Macdonald examines what it is trying to achieve and the concerns surrounding it

Launch of the GP Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) programme—initially set for 1 July and then pushed back to 1 September—has been further delayed with no fixed start date.1 NHS Digital says that data collection will only begin when three criteria are met—firstly, that patients can opt in and out, with previously held data being deleted; secondly, that a trusted research environment (TRE) is available; and, thirdly, that there has been a thorough campaign to engage, communicate, and make people aware of the programme.

What is new about GPDPR?

The programme plans to upload the medical codes from the electronic health records of around 55 million patients in England into an improved national, routine database to support services, planning, and research. NHS Digital already operates the GP extraction service2 which is linked to how GP practices are paid. During the pandemic this service was altered3 and expanded for covid related work. GPDPR is an evolution of these projects rather than a totally new programme. The project is not linked to 2014’s, which saw plans to extract GP patient data into a central database abandoned after complaints about confidentiality and business use.

Several other routine datasets based on primary care records already exist in England, including Clinical Practice Research Datalink4 and QResearch,5 but these do not provide national coverage. Routine datasets derived from universal healthcare systems are particularly valuable to the international research community. Scandinavian countries are known for such datasets. Their populations are relatively small, however, and can lack diversity compared with England’s.

What are the concerns about privacy and security?

Coding of diagnoses, tests, treatments, and referrals will be extracted rather than free text notes. These codes will include diagnoses, …

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