PRIVATE data could be used by pharmaceutical companies to profit from ill-health, residents fear.

A public debate about the future of confidential medical records was held at held at Oxford University’s Mathematical Institute in Woodstock Road.

People expressed their concerns over the handling of their private medical data and what it would be used for.

However others said that sharing data would help improve services by informing groups what resources were needed and where.

Top table speakers at the debate were Dame Fiona Caldicott, who chairs OUHT – the trust which runs the county’s main hospitals – Oxford University Health Experiences Institute director Dr Sian Rees, John Carvel of the Healthwatch England national committee, campaign group medConfidential coordinator Phil Booth, Kings Fund chief economist John Appleby and Healthwatch Oxfordshire chief executive Rachel Coney.

The programme, which would see GP records put on a database and combined with other data, was due to go ahead in April.

Information would be shared between the NHS, approved researchers and other organisation to feed into improving healthcare.

But the scheme, which proposed to allow patients to opt out, has been put on hold following criticism from professional bodies including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners.

The debate was part of a public consultation on the issue.

Renee Paton, from Oxford, told the meeting: “I do not want my personal data to be used by pharmaceutical companies to make profit from my ill health.”

Oxford resident Joan Stewart, who is a member of the campaign group Keep our NHS Public, also expressed concerns, but added: “If my data was to be used by the NHS for research only I would not have a problem with that.”

NHS England says GP data will enable it to have a more complete picture of the care being delivered, understand local problems and know where money needs investing.

Dr Gordon Gancz, of Oxford’s King Edward Street Medical Practice, said: “The vast majority of my patients said if they had been asked in the first place for their permission they would have given it. Many of them said if the NHS revised the situation and turned it into an opt-in they would happily give their information.

“This needs to turn into an opt-in system. Yes, you will get less data but you’ll get better data. Having some data is better than having no data and not being able to rely on that data.”

Rowan Gardner, 47, of healthcare data analysists RowAnalytics, based in Witney, said: “I think there are some risks but they don’t outweigh the benefits. Confidentiality may not be the biggest risk we face.

“It may be the safety of the medical care we receive. If we don’t have the ability to be able to compare outcomes of primary and secondary health care, then we don’t know whether or not we can trust our GP.”

Rachel Coney, chief executive of Healthwatch Oxfordshire, which organised Wednesday’s debate with the Health Experiences Institute, said: “Listening to public views on changes to health and care services is key to ensuring that the NHS delivers the best possible service.”

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