David Cameron is apparently about to announce that private companies – i.e., pharmaceutical companies – will be able to access NHS patient data.
Over the last couple of years, I have had concerns that the opt-out system into electronic medical records is wrong, and should instead be an opt-in system. I’ve been concerned that the kind of medical data gathered and the way it is stored on the electronic record isn’t of great use to patients, but may be of more use to research companies and drug marketers.
So perhaps this pending annoucement should not be a surprise.
It’s worrying that we still see pharmaceutical products as the mainstay of improving health in the future when the evidence tells us, should we listen to it, that the biggest gains to be made to health are social, political and environmental.
The biggest problem though, is this.
Currently, there is no legal requirement for pharmaceutical companies to publish clinical results that they don’t like, for whatever reason. They can, quite legally, bury or destroy data that they are unhappy with. A few brave souls have tried hard to publish results when they are disliked, and many editors have tried to put trial registrations into place to stop this practice. Yet the bottom line remains: there is no guarantee that pharma will publish all their clinical trial results.
Yet the government seems to be happy to let pharma see into NHS datasets. Magnifying the inequality is farcical. And wrong.