Tech website The Register is reporting that the DWP are advertising for a company to develop software “that allows it to automate slurps of medical data on claimants”.
Ten companies are bidding for the work, which has already involved a trial using a ‘medical records broker’ and 10 GP surgeries. The DWP has failed to give assurances that the data, stored using Health Amazon Web Services, will not be shared elsewhere and fears have already been voiced that the new system may harm patients.
The Register has highlighted an advert placed on the government digital marketplace asking companies to bid for a project to develop an ‘NHS / DWP data-sharing technical proof of concept’.
The DWP say they want to automate “routine requests for medical information (i.e. GP details, conditions diagnosed, hospital stays etc) and providing a digital route for ad-hoc requests (how the health condition affects the patient on a day-to day basis).”
The DWP’s advert explains that by working with a ‘medical records broker’ they have learnt that claimants and GPs lack understanding of what information is required, or don’t have access to it:
“ Citizens don't always have / understand the information needed to process their applications - we have to verify their responses with medical professionals - easier if we could access directly (with appropriate consent)”
“GPs don't always have / understand information about citizens' 'functional capability', therefore route needed to more relevant medical professionals, such as secondary and community care providers.”
It would also be much cheaper and quicker to access patient records directly, the DWP argues:
“The current process is largely clerical / paper-based, which is slow and expensive - easier if automated routine requests and digitise ad-hoc requests.”
The trial using a medical records broker ran for 8 weeks last summer in 10 GP surgeries. It is not clear if patients gave explicit permission for their records to be accessed in this way.
The DWP say the result of the trials was that:
“94% of reports were returned. 29% of these were rejected due to claimants not being matched against surgery records, patients not being registered or where there were incorrect patient details. Of the 71% reports received, 47.5% were called for an examination, 5% were put in the claimant support group and 47.5% were unable to make decisions due to insufficient evidence.”
The advert specifies that the successful developer will have to show that their proposed solution ‘can be easily ported’ into the Health Amazon Web Services Platform.
Alarmingly, the DWP do not rule out sharing the data outside the DWP.
Instead, in response to a question posted by a developer asking whether data ‘could be shared across Government, councils, for example?’ the DWP reply only that:
“This is out of scope of this piece of work. The primary use for the data is for Health/disability assessments, medical information etc.”
The Register raises concerns about the proposed system causing harm to patients if it makes them reluctant to disclose information to their GP, in case it is used against them by the DWP.
They spoke to Med Confidential coordinator Phil Booth, who told them:
"Patients must know that what they tell their doctor will never be used against them, and GPs must never become de facto DWP assessors due to 'data sharing’. The information patients give to their doctor must be untainted by external pressures, or people will come to harm."
Booth pointed out that doctors already come under pressure from the DWP not to issue fit notes and went on to say:
"Automating bad processes doesn't improve them – it makes them worse. And if it [DWP and its assessors] won't trust the information it already gets from NHS professionals, why should DWP have even more?"
You can read the full story on The Register.
Is the DWP ‘data slurping’ of medical records a good idea for speeding up decision making or a threat to patient confidentiality? Let us know what you think.