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UK medical data is uploaded to Google servers outside of the UK

Tory MP wants answers
Tue Mar 04 2014, 13:54
The NHS at work

A CONSERVATIVE PARTY MP wants to know why UK medical data is being sent overseas to Google servers.

Conservative Party MP Dr Sarah Wollaston tweeted her surprise last weekend at the news that Google gets the data, after a voter directed her to reports about it.

Shocked, she responded with a question, asking, "So HES [hospital episode statistics] data uploaded to 'google's immense army of servers', who consented to that at HSCIC (Health and Social Care Information Centre)?!"

The HSCIC has responded to this, and has posted a number of statements on its website from it and other firms to which it admitted the data has been shared.

"We can confirm that extracted Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data can only be used, by health organisations to improve their ability to carry out their role; or to improve the quality of healthcare management or service delivery in England," it said, before adding statements from PA Consulting and a firm called Earthware.

"It has been widely reported today that the predecessor body to the HSCIC supplied data to an actuarial society. The data provided was to a not-for-profit organisation for non-commercial research. It was not used to analyse individual insurance premiums, but to analyse general variances in critical illness," it added.

This was about prevalence of certain conditions among certain age groups to ensure premiums were fair - it was not used to calculate individual premiums. The resulting report was publically available, non-identifiable and in aggregate form."

PA Consulting said that only anonymised data crosses the ocean, and that a mere sliver of its workers have access to the booty.

"Over the past two years we have run a project to show the NHS how insight can be quickly and cost-effectively generated from large volumes of health data, enabling better care for patients... The dataset does not contain information that can be linked to specific individuals and is held securely in the cloud in accordance with conditions specified and approved by HSCIC. Access to the dataset is tightly controlled and restricted to the small PA project team," it said in a statement.

"Our new approach to extracting insight from large volumes of data can help the NHS improve patient care."

PA Consulting said that just four people regularly access the data, though there is room for 12 users.

The HSCIC confirmed a tight relationship, adding, "PA Consulting used a product called Google BigQuery to manipulate the datasets provided and the NHS IC was aware of this."

"[We] had written confirmation from PA Consulting prior to the agreement being signed that no Google staff would be able to access the data," it said, adding, "access continued to be restricted to the individuals named in the data sharing agreement."

The story is similar with the Earthware outfit, and there HSCIC said that arrangement, which mapped medical information, has been suspended.

"We are investigating urgently the source of the data used by Earthware UK and whether controls demanded of any organisation using data have been maintained," it explained. "After this investigation we will take any necessary action."

Earthware said that it used "mock data" that was supplied by a third party. µ


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