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The Times Health Commission calls for 'patient passports'

This insights examines recommendations on digital health from The Times Health Commission, as well as recent policy proposals from the Labour Party and Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

After a year looking into the future of healthcare in the UK and how to address areas the NHS is struggling with, The Times Health Commission has now published its report, making 10 recommendations to tackle these challenges.

It will not be startling to the digital health and care industry that the Commission concluded “technology has the power to transform healthcare”, but findings on public attitudes towards a key proposal for “NHS digital health accounts” may cause some surprise.

This first recommendation of the Commission, the creation of individual NHS digital health accounts called ‘patient passports’, outlines how the proposed passports:

  • Would enable every NHS patient to have their health information digitally stored in one place, so any doctor treating them can access their records
  • Could be accessed through the NHS App
  • Would allow for an overhaul of outdated and fragmented systems that prevent data sharing between different parts of the NHS and social care

The Times’ public polling via YouGov on this proposal revealed that patients are generally supportive, which is a positive indication that public understanding of both the processes and benefits of sharing health data could now be more widespread. Given previous controversies regarding the scheme in 2013 and GPDPR in 2021, this should not be taken for granted.

The findings of the polling include that:

  • 8 in 10 people support the creation of ‘patient passports’
  • 56% agree that the convenience of being able to easily book appointments and access care outweighed any risk to the privacy or security of their medical records (22% disagreed)
  • 68% would be happy for the NHS to allow other medical staff or clinicians to access their records
  • 64% would be willing for their data to be used anonymously for research

The Times also states that there is strong political appetite for the reforms and that Sir Keir Starmer has told the Commission there should be a “seamless system” that securely shares NHS data across all GP, social care, and hospital records.

This comes shortly after Labour set out plans to:

  • Seize the opportunity NHS Federated data platform offers, using this platform to improve the way we use patient data in the NHS, in a safe and secure way, to deliver better treatment and care
  • Drive interoperability between digital systems in the NHS and in care from the bottom-up, by making the NHS App a one-stop shop for health information

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