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Planning and research: The future with GP data

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we use GP data for planning and research. Peter Short, Clinical Lead for GP Data explains how the trustworthy and careful use of this data benefits us all as users of the NHS.

The coronavirus pandemic has taught us many things across the NHS over the past year, with just one of these being the crucial contribution that patient data use has made, to plan and research life-changing treatments and interventions.

Young female programmer in office looking at code on a computer screen

Patient data has helped to save lives throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The schedule for commencing data collection under the GP Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) has changed. View the latest GPDPR information.

The pandemic saw NHS Digital launch the GP data for pandemic planning and research data extraction, at the request of the profession, to reduce the burden on overloaded GP practices for data requests.

Patient data from general practice, made available by NHS Digital, has been used to support vital research on the cause, effects, treatments and outcomes for patients linked to COVID-19. It was used to create and maintain the shielded patient list to protect those most vulnerable in our society, as well as being available to researchers through NHS DigiTrials to find effective treatments for coronavirus including the Oxford University RECOVERY trials.

Using data responsibly

Looking ahead, it is clearer than ever that the NHS needs to responsibly use the data we collect as we care for patients, to support the effective functioning of the system, ensure safe and sustainable care and evidence the best use of public funds.

Over the past few years, NHS Digital has been working with patients, GP representatives, researchers, and NHS organisations to improve the way in which data is collected from GP practices.

GP Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) is the replacement for the existing 10-year-old system, providing a new channel for trustworthy, capable and standardised but consistently controlled collection of data for planning and research.

It has the potential to transform the health and care planning and research capability in a way that improves protections for data subjects.

There is a fundamental need for a trustworthy system – from the point of data collection to the final use. Trust that the system will do the right things, be transparent about what happens, and respect and apply the preferences available to patients as data subjects.

This replacement collection is based on evidence of current and planned uses for data through NHS Digital and other routes today. It will use established NHS Digital governance processes to control and administer applications for the data and ‘raise the bar’ on transparency and consistency of information provision about how data is used, and protections are applied.

This is the tricky balance between the responsibility to protect privacy and to benefit health and care widely from controlled use – but is a core and trusted purpose of NHS Digital.

So, GPDPR went live as a direction from the Department of Health and Social Care on 12 May 2021. Data will be collected after 1 September 2021 when GP practices accept the mandatory Data Provision Notice on their systems and have provided updated privacy notices for patients.

A challenge for the future

The challenge for the healthcare system, NHS Digital and customers for data, is to work to improve transparency on the benefits and explain how the health and care system uses the data for the urgent priorities, such as the illness, disease and treatments delayed with the COVID-19 pandemic. We will rightly be held to account by the GP profession, patients and their representatives to deliver on the commitments to maintain privacy and be trustworthy and open.

The 2021 ‘Putting Good into Practice’ report includes an up-to-date reminder from patients that ‘Whole Life’ transparency on data use is vital, to equitably distribute benefit, to take care with sensitive data through appropriate safeguards, but also to be ambitious to deliver benefit for the NHS and individual patients.

The implementation of GPDPR is the start of a new and consistent channel for use of data collected in General Practice, but it is only the start of a journey. It has the potential to transform the health and care planning and research capability in a way that improves protections for data subjects. It will take time to transition existing collections and retire legacy collections. It will be the subject of necessary and high- profile scrutiny from the public, professions and data customers alike, as it becomes established and progressively evolves.

The trustworthy and careful use of our personal and confidential data MUST primarily benefit us as users of the NHS, our families and future generations. Data saves lives – when used with care and respect.

First published by Open Access Government on 25 May 2021.

Related subjects

Data powers the NHS - the collection of GP data could support vital health and care planning and research.
We are working with the GP profession to establish a central collection of GP data for vital planning and research to support the coronavirus (COVID-19) response. Dr Peter Short, Clinical Lead GP Data at NHS Digital, explains the new approach.


Last edited: 19 July 2021 12:42 pm