Wirral MP questions government’s health secretary over proposed NHS and care reforms

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12 Feb 2021
Margaret Greenwood MP has asked the government’s health secretary Matt Hancock to give a ‘cast-iron guarantee that he will legislate to ensure that NHS patient data cannot be used to promote or sell private health insurance or services to patients’. 

The Wirral West MP's question comes after the government released its new White Paper – Integration and innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all – which sets out ministers’ plans for the future of health and social care.  

The plans would put Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), which are partnerships between the organisations that meet health and care needs across an area, on a statutory footing. ICSs can include NHS organisations, local councils and ‘other partners’ – leading to concerns that there is nothing to rule out private companies playing a large part in the delivery of healthcare locally, thus undermining the NHS.  

Ms Greenwood pointed out that ICSs have their roots in Accountable Care Organisations, such as those used in America, in which individuals take out private health insurance, and commented that it was therefore hardly surprising that there is concern about putting ICSs on a statutory footing in England. 

NHS England’s own Five Year Forward View in 2014 talked about promoting care models that are ‘similar to the Accountable Care Organisations that are emerging in Spain, the United States, Singapore, and a number of other countries.’ 

Thus far health and social care organisations have worked together in ICS form on a voluntary basis. Putting Integrated Care Systems on a legal footing raises many questions, including that of what this will mean in practical terms given that NHS services are paid for through direct taxation and free at the point of need, whereas care services are means tested and many people have to pay for them. 

The White Paper emphasises the importance of data sharing across the health and care system. With concerns about the possibility of both public and private sector organisations working within ICSs and the roles that big business might take, Ms Greenwood has said that this raises important questions about who patients’ data would be shared with, for what purpose it would be shared and what control individuals would have over how their personal data would be shared.  

Margaret Greenwood MP said: 

“I was pleased to be able to get the chance to ask a question of the health secretary Matt Hancock about the government’s proposed health and care reforms. 

"These proposals have profound implications for patients, NHS staff and care workers and it is important that there is wide-spread consultation. 

"It is a matter of very real concern that the government is thinking about a structural reorganisation of the NHS and care in the middle of a pandemic and public health crisis and at a time when NHS and care staff have been under immense stress for a very long time. 

"There is a great deal of detail that needs full scrutiny. 

"One issue is that of the use of patient data. The White Paper puts a great deal of emphasis on changing legislation in relation to data sharing.  

"This raises important questions about what patient data would be shared, who would it be shared with and for what purposes. 

"Given that private companies provide social care, while health services are delivered by the public sector, it is important that the government sets out clearly what protection there will be for all of our data. 

"I have asked the Secretary of State to give a cast iron guarantee that NHS patient data will not be used to promote or sell private health insurance or services to patients. 

"I was disappointed that he was unable to give that assurance, but he has said he will look at the details. 

“The government will be introducing a Bill in the near future and I will work with colleagues to scrutinise the legislation when it is published and consult widely with people in Wirral West.”