Google gets FIVE YEARS' worth of sensitive patient data from NHS

Google gets green light to access FIVE YEARS’ worth of sensitive patient data from NHS, sparking privacy fears

  • Internet giant given medical history, diagnoses, treatment dates and ethnicity 
  • Controversial contract signed by Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust last month
  • Google says it wants to data to teach AI to snuff out diseases earlier than doctors

Google has been given the go-ahead to access five years’ worth of sensitive NHS patient data.  

In a deal signed last month, the internet giant was handed hospital records of tens of thousands of patients up and down England. 

New documents show the data will include medical history, diagnoses, treatment dates and ethnic origin.

The news has raised concerns about the privacy of the data, which could now be harvested and commercialised.  

Google says it wants to use the data to create an artificial intelligence (AI) that can detect conditions before patients deteriorate. 

Google has been given the go-ahead to access five years’ worth of sensitive NHS patient data, including that of people treated at Musgrove Park Hospital in Somerset (pictured)

It comes almost a year after Google absorbed the London-based AI lab DeepMind Health, a leading health technology developer.

DeepMind was bought by Google’s parent company Alphabet for £400 million ($520m) in 2014 and up until November 2018 had maintained independence.

But as of this year DeepMind transferred control of its health division to the parent company in California.

DeepMind had contracts to process medical record from six NHS trusts covering more than 12 hospitals in Britain to develop its Streams mobile application.

The app alerts doctors and nurses when patients are at risk of acute kidney injury, and to conduct artificial intelligence research.

Five of the six trusts, including the Royal Free Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, chose to sign new deals with Google ‘after careful consideration’.

Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust also signed off on the transfer, but it was not clear what records Google would have access to.

However, FOI requests by New Scientist revealed the trust, which which runs Somerset’s biggest hospital Musgrove Park Hospital, has agreed to give access to all of its patient data from 2014.

That includes patients who attended appointments or were admitted to A&E in that time period, according to Phil Booth, co-ordinator of medical data campaign group MedConfidential. 

WHAT IS GOOGLE DEEPMIND? 

Google DeepMind is an artificial intelligence lab within Google.

It was created after Google bought University College London spinout, DeepMind, for £400 million in 2014.

Its goal is to solve general intelligence and make machines capable of learning for themselves.

It wants to do this by creating a set of powerful general-purpose learning algorithms that can be combined to make an AI system.

Google wants its DeepMind algorithms to make many of its products and services smarter and more responsive.

DeepMind has been criticised by health watchdogs in the past.

Last year a British hospital trust was told it misused patient data when sharing information with DeepMind for work on the smartphone app.

The Royal Free NHS Trust did not comply with the Data Protection Act when it passed on personal information of around 1.6 million patients, a British data protection watchdog found.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it found ‘a number of shortcomings’ in the way the data was handled, including that patients were not adequately informed their data would be used as part of the test.

‘There’s no doubt the huge potential that creative use of data could have on patient care and clinical improvements, but the price of innovation does not need to be the erosion of fundamental privacy rights,’ Elizabeth Denham, head of the ICO, said in a statement.

The investigation found that many patients did not know their data was being used as part of a test. 

 

He told Mailonline: ‘These new deals show just how little has changed for one of the most controversial NHS data projects of the last half decade. 

‘Despite the deal with the Royal Free being ruled unlawful, Trusts have signed new contracts to hand Google five years of patients’ data from over a dozen hospitals – and won’t even say how much they’re being paid.

‘If this is the sort of deal Boris Johnson is going to encourage, it’s going to be catastrophic for public trust. 

‘Patients must know what is happening to their data, and be able to see exactly what sort of deals are being done to get it.’

It’s unclear if the other trusts have signed similar contracts, but experts told this website it seems likely. 

If true, the number of patient records could be well within the hundreds of thousands. 

DeepMind health works with NHS hospitals to train algorithms to diagnose disease.

The DeepMind Health brand and its medical app Streams is now being absorbed by Google Health, based at the firm’s headquarters in Mountain View.

DeepMind has also been criticised by health watchdogs in the past.

Last year a British hospital trust was told it misused patient data when sharing information with DeepMind for work on the smartphone app.

The Royal Free NHS Trust did not comply with the Data Protection Act when it passed on personal information of around 1.6 million patients, a British data protection watchdog found.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it found ‘a number of shortcomings’ in the way the data was handled, including that patients were not adequately informed their data would be used as part of the test.

‘There’s no doubt the huge potential that creative use of data could have on patient care and clinical improvements, but the price of innovation does not need to be the erosion of fundamental privacy rights,’ Elizabeth Denham, head of the ICO, said in a statement.

The investigation found that many patients did not know their data was being used as part of a test. 

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