England’s National Health Service (NHS) came under heavy criticism recently after alleged plans to share patients’ information with researchers and private companies, and this will now stack on privacy concerns. In a report by The Guardian, extensive patient data from its HES (hospital episode statistics), information has been uploaded on Google servers. Patients information that can now be found in BigQuerry analytics tool by management firm PA include their addresses, hospital records among others.
Questioning the amount of information that could have been shared, members of parliament and patients groups are now concerned that this could be a breach of law for disclosing information to Google servers outside of the European Union. PA consulting disclosed that it produced interactive maps of hospital information, implying the location information from patients’ files had been shared. In reference to The Independent, marketers use patients’ information to target ads on social media. It clearly noted that there are yet many unanswered questions adding that more details will emerge once the UK’s Health and Social Care information Center (HSCIC) continues with investigations.
Recent updates indicate that only the HES was uploaded to Google database with the another one noting that the PA Consulting obtained the information after it actually requested access and worked together with the NHS. In a report presented to the media, the company provided the following information:
For the last two years, the company has run a project to demonstrate to the NHS how insight can be quickly and cost-effectively generated from massive health data, enabling better care for patients. PA signed a data sharing agreement with it to access HES dataset from the HSCIC. The dataset does not contain individuals’ information about a patient and is safely held in the cloud as per the conditions provided and approved with HSCIC. Access to the dataset is tightly controlled and regulated to the small PA project team.
The media source was also directed to this information from HSCIC by PA Consulting, confirming its agreement to hare anonymized information with the consulting firm. Confirming the report, the NHSIC said that it was aware that PA uploaded the information to BigQuerry, but employees of Google cannot have access to the information.