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Data czar slams Google DeepMind's NHS tie-up as WannaCry fallout continues

17 May 2017

"Taking into account what you have now clarified, it is my view and that of my panel that the goal for the transfer of 1.6 million identifiable patient records to Google DeepMind was for the testing of the Streams application, and not for the provision of direct care to patients", Calidcott said in the letter, shared Hal Hodson, who initially revealed the data sharing agreement while a New Scientist reporter, and who also co-authored the aforementioned paper.

Dame Fiona says in the letter that she informed Royal Free and DeepMind in December that she "did not believe that when the patient data was shared with Google DeepMind, implied consent for direct care was an appropriate legal basis".

The UK's National Data Guardian will inform an ongoing investigation into the legality of the deal between the UK's National Health Service and DeepMind.

Caldicott had written to the RFH in December explaining that she was advising the Information Commissioner's Office on the common law duty of confidentiality around the sharing of identifiable medical records where consent is implied for the goal of direct care.

"Given that Streams was going through testing and therefore could not be relied upon for patient care, any role the application might have played in supporting the provision of direct care would have been limited and secondary to the objective of the data transfer", she wrote. Streams, an acute kidney injury alert app, was deployed at the organisation in January this year.

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Prof Powis had stressed that "a quarter of deaths from (acute kidney injuries) are preventable if clinicians are able to intervene earlier and more effectively". The transfer of data has been flagged as "inappropriate" by a leading data protection figure in the NHS.

The agreement is said to give DeepMind access to data from all patients who pass through the Royal Free, Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals in London each year until 2017, also including the past five years, when Google will then be obliged to delete the data.

"It is my view, and that of my panel that the objective for the transfer of 1.6 million identifiable patient records were only used for the testing of Streams application, and not for the provision of direct care to patients", she said.

The app itself, called Streams, is not being investigated as part of the ICO's investigation.

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In a statement given to The Verge, the Royal Free said that the project was "one of the first of its kind in the NHS" and that "there are always lessons we can learn from pioneering work". "It's the responsibility of businesses and organisations to comply with data protection law".

Perrin said Dame Fiona "raises an important question about the legal basis for using patient data to test a new technology, to ensure it is safe before it is introduced in clinical practice".

A spokesperson for the Royal Free said Streams is working successfully, and that the trust was proud of its work with DeepMind. It is now in use at the Royal Free, and is helping clinicians provide better, faster care to our patients. "Safety testing is essential across the NHS, and no hospital would turn a new service live without testing it first".

The company also said it recognized the need for more public discussion about how the NHS used new technology. "We're glad the NDG has said that further guidance would be useful to organisations which are undertaking work to test new technologies", said the company.

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Data czar slams Google DeepMind's NHS tie-up as WannaCry fallout continues