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"Digitising the medical records of the country’s 62 million people was the core objective of the National Programme for IT in the NHS, accounting for £7bn of the total estimated cost of £11.4bn". If you work in the IT industry, as I do, you just know something's profoundly wrong with this number, but that's not the point I want to make. Earlier this week the BBC published a news item about a deal that's been struck with life sciences and pharmaceutical companies to provide access to our patient records, possibly for free in exchange for cheaper medicines in the future.
A few years go not long before the last general election, a friend called me and said that Conservative Central Office wanted to speak to a few people about new ideas. CCO wanted to ‘hoover up’ good ideas to help shape and influence policy. He put my name forward. I wrote a one page document with this core idea;
We propose that it is economically viable for the UK's National Health Service (NHS) to become a self-funding entity by selling anonymised patient healthcare data to a wide variety of industry actors, locally and internationally. We also propose that an individual’s healthcare data record itself can eventually become an earning asset that can be passed on to future generations. Think about this. Data is the new oil.
This model was verified by IBM, Google and the UK Work Foundation at a meeting at IBM’s Almeida Research centre in the US, over 4 years ago based on real data and financial modelling produced by an American expert, who has since died. His name was Jeff Kelley.
The BBC's article says: ’Under the plans, NHS records would be made anonymous, but it is not clear whether private firms would have to pay to access them'.
So a profound amount of wealth may be given away in exchange for some benefit that some medicines might be cheaper in the future from Big Pharma. Oh gee thanks.
When Jeff Kelley was working on this he met all the big pharma firms and they said they would pay for this data – lots of money, and they would still make money, actually more than they make now because this data can reduce bringing a new drug to market from 50 years to 5 years. That’s worth untold billions to the pharma industry.
So we have a situation where we're going to spend £7bn on digitising NHS patient records, to a company that has already failed to deliver and then give away the data which has the potential to make the entire NHS self-funding.
That's why we're selling England by the pound.
Note: Selling England by the pound is a famous album by rock band Genesis. The song with the album title in the lyrics opens with;
"Can you tell me where my country lies?"
said the unifaun to his true love's eyes.
"It lies with me!" cried the Queen of Maybe
- for her merchandise, he traded in his prize.
****UPDATE 20 April 20 2014****
Fastcompany article describes how Nest & FitBit are creating multi-billion dollar companies from the collection and resale of consumer data. We in the UK however, will give away patient health care data free of charge. I don't agree with the HMRC selling our tax data to third parties but at least they understand its value.