NHS sells a billion patient records

Mar 16, 2014

Row as drug giants consultancy snaps up data

A billion NHS patient records have been sold to a marketing company working for some of the world’s largest drug firms, in what is being described as a “betrayal of patient trust”.

The Sunday Times reports that healthcare intelligence firm Harvey Walsh has bought a database including details of patients’ hospital admissions and operations.

Although names and addresses have been removed from the database, it includes the age, postcode district and medical condition of every patient who has received hospital care in England.

Harvey Walsh – which boasts drug giants AstraZeneca, Novartis and Lilly among its clients – says it can “track” the treatments that individual patients have received during their lifetime.

The Health & Social Care Information Centre, the government body responsible for the database, admits there is a possibility that patients could be identified, despite strict safeguards. A spokesman said: “There remains a small risk of re-identification if data is put together with other data sources.”

Phil Booth, co-ordinator of the privacy campaign group medConfidential which uncovered the arrangement, said: “Patients will be appalled their treatment is being closely tracked and then sold to a drugs marketing company.”

However, Harvey Walsh insists: “We categorically are not able to identify any patients from the information we receive or the analysis we perform.”

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