NHS can save live by giving data to tech giants, says Matt Hancock

He also described how he had seen artificial intelligence improve cancer diagnosis rates and helped guide surgeons when removing tumours.

However, the Health Secretary said he was “determined” to increase NHS collaboration with tech companies and had tasked NHSX, the digital arm of the health service, with making it an “open door” for companies seeking data to help build new medical technologies.

He said: “It is about making sure that we have an open door to the NHS to all of those who want to come in and use the capabilities of the NHS in order to save lives and improve treatment.”

Mr Hancock said he was also focusing on overhauling NHS data rules to make it easier for public organisations to give companies access to patient records.

He added that his department had already slimmed down privacy rules in the NHS to a “piece of paper” as part of the efforts to improve access for health companies trying to access medical data for initiatives fighting coronavirus.

“We are going to go further and simplify those rules further and put those rules in the hands of those working right across the NHS in order to change the culture to see data as an asset, on which we can build the future of the NHS, rather than data as something that needs to be protected and hidden away,” he said.

“Our privacy needs to be protected, but the data needs to be used to save lives.”

But Eva Blum-Dumontet, a senior research officer for the pressure group Privacy International, warned that the Government should only hand over patient data to tech companies when there was a clear medical benefit to patients.

She said: “There is this blind, almost magical, trust and belief that technology is going to solve the very complicated problems we are facing. 

“Partnerships with private companies is something that absolutely needs to be scrutinised.”

Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, also warned that the NHS had to ensure taxpayers and patients saw the true value of any innovations derived from their health data.

He said: “The NHS tends to be quite a weak bargainer in these agreements and has ended up in the past handing over a lot of data for machine learning without securing the benefits for the public. I think that again is something again we have to be looking out for. 

“Also, who ends up owning and benefiting from those discoveries? It is very easy, given that the NHS doesn’t always know how valuable its data might be, for it to say ‘well, anything is a benefit’ and so sell quite low for others to access.”

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