PATIENTS in Swindon and Wiltshire have more time to opt out of a controversial data-sharing system after its launch date was delayed.

The medical histories of almost one million people in the Bath and north-east Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group area will be entered into the GP Data for Planning and Research database automatically in two months’ time unless the patients say otherwise.

The scheme will collect information on treatments, referrals and appointments from the past 10 years alongside other data from medical records on GP systems.

NHS Digital said this information will be accessed by organisations “which will legitimately use the data for healthcare planning and research purposes” and all requests will be subject to independent oversight and scrutiny.

The group added that patients can opt out of sharing their data at any time, though it will not be applied retrospectively.

But privacy campaigners and doctors have raised concerns about who exactly this sensitive data would be shared with and argued that there was not enough time for patients to fully understand the situation. So the government has pushed back the start of the process from July 1 to September 1.

Keith Smith from Highworth said: "There was very little information out there, it has not been well publicised and people have a right to know this is happening.

"The GP surgeries should take the lead on this and advise patients about it. The government should apologise for trying to rush this in quietly through the back door.

"We have more time to get the message out and there are good things about this data being used for research but they've gone about it the wrong way."

The formerly-confidential information will be ‘pseudonymised’ so that patients cannot be directly identified - but campaigners say this is different from being made completely anonymous and that although peoples’ identities will be disguised, they could still be re-identified later.

Cori Crider is the director of digital privacy group Foxglove.

She said: “The government must make sure every single patient in England is meaningfully informed about what is happening to their data.

“How will the government guarantee that for people who aren’t online, like the 67 per cent percent of older people who are not digitally connected? This data belongs to patients and they fund the NHS, so it should be their choice.”

The Royal College of GPs welcomed the start date delay but said safeguards must be in place to ensure the medical records are not used inappropriately.

Chairman Professor Martin Marshall said: “It is essential that this time is used to properly communicate with the public and with clinicians so that patients and GPs have trust in the programme.

“Surveys show that most patients are happy for their data to be used for legitimate planning and research purposes, but this must be built around trust.”

NHS Digital figures show there were 970,202 patients on GP registers in the regional CCG area as of June 1, and there are around 61 million across England.

Chief executive Simon Bolton said: “We take our responsibility to safeguard the data we hold incredibly seriously.

“We intend to use the next two months to speak with patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan even further.”

Anyone wishing to opt out of GPDPR entirely should do so before September 1.

The NHS Digital website explains: “If you do not want your patient data shared with NHS Digital, you can register a Type 1 Opt-out with your GP practice.

“If you do not want NHS Digital to share your identifiable patient data with anyone else for purposes beyond your own care, then you can also register a National Data Opt-out on or by calling 0300 3035678.”