Warning as probe reveals confidential patient data is being sold for as little as 19p

Daily Mail report threatens public confidence and will prevent key information being used to enhance services and improve health outcomes, data experts warn

Data security experts are warning that recent reports of patients' personal details being illegally sold for as little as 19p will harm public confidence and prevent key information being used to enhance services and improve health outcomes.

The comments come after an undercover Daily Mail investigation found that the names of more than 3,000 sick and disabled people were purchased for under £600 by reporters posing as a cold calling outfit.

The report follows the earlier revelation that pensioners' salaries, the value of their investments, and the size of their pensions are being sold for as little as 5p without their consent.

The reality is that there are huge opportunities for improving patient care and driving efficiencies in healthcare through better use of data, but stories such as these are damaging patient confidence and their likelihood to share data in the future

In the most-recent case, the medical data involved included details of thousands of people suffering with diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, back pain and arthritis. It even named those suffering from embarrassing bladder problems, as well as people who are hard of hearing and could be more vulnerable to scams.

This has led to warnings from the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, who told BBC Radio 4's Today show that those repsonsible faced hefty fines. He added: "If it is a breach of the Data Protection Act , then the companies involved are facing serious civil monetary penalties of up to half a million pounds.

"If we establish it's criminal activity by individuals, then they are in deep trouble too."

Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), added: "People rightly consider information about their health to be sensitive, and in a recent survey we found that half of people consider it to be extremely sensitive.

To think such information could be in the hands of unscrupulous businesses looking to profit from it sends a shiver down the spine."

Worryingly, reports such as this are damaging public confidence and will deter people from allowing data to be used to enhance services in the future.

Itís essential that consumers understand how data can be used to benefit them and the wider population, rather than feeling as though their data is being used solely to aid sales and increase insurance premiums

Speaking to BBH, James Norman, healthcare business director at cloud computing and big data firm, EMC, said: "The reality is that there are huge opportunities for improving patient care and driving efficiencies in healthcare through better use of data, but stories such as these are damaging patient confidence and their likelihood to share data in the future.

Within the healthcare sector, data can be used to create a more-predictive and more-personalised healthcare model; contributing significantly to medical research and a more-positive patient experience. Ultimately, this can shift the NHS from an illness to a wellness model.

"Informatics can now identify the risk factors that put the patient at high risk of developing a condition and help to tackle it before it strikes. Monitoring patients using data can also dramatically improve care management."

"A recent report from EMC and Volterra highlighted the need for acceleration in the uptake of data analytics techniques and technologies to drive £16billion or more in efficiency savings to plug the NHS funding gap.

"With these types of potential benefits available to the healthcare sector, it's crucial that the discussion isn't shut down before it's even begun. Itís essential that consumers understand how data can be used to benefit them and the wider population, rather than feeling as though their data is being used solely to aid sales and increase insurance premiums.

Itís crucial that the Government scrutinises legislation to ensure patient data is protected and that there is greater transparency around how data is being used in healthcare, to combat consumer concerns and facilitate the long-term opportunity which data insights could deliver

"As part of this, itís crucial that the Government scrutinises legislation to ensure patient data is protected and that there is greater transparency around how data is being used in healthcare, to combat consumer concerns and facilitate the long-term opportunity which data insights could deliver for our health sector.

"The major challenge sits in providing proof points for data, leading to greater good and encouraging best practice across the entire healthcare sector.

"The future of healthcare will require that the right people get to see the patientís data, with their consent, and provide the appropriate care based on a full understanding of the patientís history. This, in turn, can drive real change in how we are able to predict and tackle health problems across the population, particularly around chronic diseases.

"With this collaboration of data and population buy-in, we will be well poised to drive an efficient and effective health service in the UK. Until that point, it's down to the Government and industry to tackle the data challenge together and convince patients that giving access to some data will be beneficial to the health of the nation and, ultimately, their own care."

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