The point is that people have the opportunity to opt out of the programme if they wish to. The HSCIC can also put in place contractual safeguards if there are sensitivities around data. Our amendments to the Care Bill created a “one strike and you’re out” situation for any companies that use data, whereby if there is any misuse of data, they will be struck off.
The safeguards established by the Government—those in the 2012 Act and the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that people could opt out of the collection and use of their data—are welcome. Such safeguards never existed under the previous Government, and we have made good progress in protecting patient confidentiality, although that is not to say that we do not need to reassure the public further.
We must make sure that we have rigorous processes in place. In the brief time available, it is worth outlining some of the strong measures in the 2012 Act, which established the HSCIC and set out the framework in which it will operate to ensure that data are being used appropriately. Under section 260 of the 2012 Act, the HSCIC must not publish the information it obtains in a form that would enable an individual other than a provider of care to be identified. That is a strong protection for individual confidentiality in the publication of data.
Under section 261, the HSCIC cannot disseminate or share data that could be used to identify an individual other than a provider of care except where there is another legal basis for doing so, which, as we have said, would be only in extreme circumstances such as a civil emergency. Under section 263, the HSCIC must publish a code of practice clarifying how it and others should handle confidential data. Under section 264, the HSCIC must be open and transparent about the data it obtains by publishing a register with descriptions of the information. The HSCIC is working now to ensure that it is transparent about all the data it has released to others.
Moreover, the Government have already introduced the commitment that if someone has concerns about their data being used in such a way, they can ask their GP practice to note their objection and opt out of the system, after which no identifiable data about them will flow from their GP practice to the HSCIC. Directions to the HSCIC under section 254 of the 2012 Act, which are separate from the amendments considered by the House as part of the Care Bill, will ensure that that commitment to patients has legal force.
There are strong safeguards in place, and Opposition Members would do well to recognise that the 2012 Act has put us in a much better place. Safeguards are in place that never existed when the previous Government extended the use of data sharing in the NHS. We all recognise the benefits of care.data, and we must recognise that, with the additional safeguards in place, we will have a system that will help to improve health and care research and the quality of care available to patients.