Sell NHS medical records to fund AI, biotech? Not quite what’s in the Blair-Hague report. (updated)

A ‘sale’ not quite what the press reports. The former political rivals of the 1990s and early 2000s, Sir Tony Blair and Lord William Hague, joined forces again last week to release their third report.  “A New National Purpose: Leading the Biotech Revolution”, the third joint report available on Lord Hague’s website, would be to capitalize on what they described as “the fastest and most far-reaching [technological] revolution in the history of human civilisation” to make Britain a world leader in developing “gene therapies, of discovering new antibiotics and of building molecular factories.”

The three major points of the report are:

  1. Formation of a new laboratory, the Laboratory of Biodesign, to focus on the invention of new biotechnology, biomolecules, and therapeutics that are at too early a stage for commercial investors.
  2. Establishment of an NHS Data Trust (NHSDT, pages 33-36),designed for public benefit, with a controlling stake owned by NHS England and additional investments from companies. 
  3. For scaling up biotech, an expansion of the work of the British Business Bank, improved rules for Venture Capital Trusts and consideration of scale-up grants where companies will list in Britain. The recommendations go further into reforms in venture capital funds and capital markets.

#2 is the point making the headlines in the Independent and Sky News. The reports do not explain that the sale of the NHS medical records would be done through the NHSDT.  It would negotiate data-sharing agreements with external organizations and be capable of joining profit-sharing arrangements, while guarding that data would not be sold to third parties and be strictly anonymized. The plain language of the recommendation: “Provide research entities with access to the anonymised data in return for financial profit, which would benefit the NHS. This could happen via a range of mechanisms, varying from direct financial payment to negotiating cost-price access for the NHS to any medicines developed based on the data provided.” (page 35) Profits would be reinvested into the NHS. The analogy is to the for-profit parts of the BBC.

The report goes on to stress producing high-scale companies that stay in the UK, versus the current situation of exporting technology to the US. It also proposes a Biosecurity Task Force “to keep Britain and the rest of the world safe from biotech accidents and bad actors.”

It also addresses how the UK should address a future pandemic as a national security issue (pages 55-58) and restructure the UK Health Security Agency.

In AI, the report recommends the formation of the MediMind laboratory network that would work towards relieving pressure on the NHS through creating personalized AI doctors. This would be done in partnership with industry and the NHS. Last June’s report concentrated on AI.

(Update 2 Feb, Editor’s note: It dismays me again that professional reporters writing for reputable news websites misinterpreted the report as advocating the straight-up sale of NHS medical data. All one had to do was what this poor Yank marketer/writer did–search within the report, past the executive summary, into that section. But ‘selling NHS data’ is more ‘clickbaity’. 

Unfortunately, this Editor believes that these reports will be read, filed, and the same mistakes will be made, putting the UK further behind the proverbial 8-Ball…standard operating procedure.

Open forum below for our UK (and elsewhere) Readers.)

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