The Health and Social Care Information Centre urged the Department of Health in December to intervene in NHS England plans to publicise the controversial Care.data project, HSJ has learned.
Information centre chair Kingsley Manning wrote to a senior DH official to raise concerns about the “adverse impact” he believed NHS England plans would have on “public and professional opinion”.
The correspondence reveals tensions between the two organisations over the programme, which is owned by NHS England but in which the Information Centre plays the key delivery role.
The letter, obtained by HSJ under the Freedom of Information Act, was addressed to Karen Wheeler, then director general of the DH’s information and group operations directorate. She has since joined NHS England.
The letter, dated 6 December 2013, said: “We have always been concerned with the potential impact of the proposed mailshot planned for January, which has been required by the [Information Commissioners’ Office].
“These concerns have been reinforced by the planned publication by NHS England of a ‘Care.data prospectus’. We are worried that the publication of this document, as currently drafted, would have an adverse impact on public and professional opinion.”
Mr Manning added that “it would be helpful if [the DH] could become involved [in discussions with NHS England], so that we can jointly consider the best way forward”.
The subsequent mailshot, which involved leaflets being sent to households, drew widespread criticism from patients groups, GPs and the national media.
NHS England has not, to date, published a Care.data prospectus and the programme has been delayed by six months to allow further engagement.
Questioned this week on the letter, the information centre refused to give further details of the “concerns” referred to by Mr Manning, or to comment on whether they had been resolved since the letter was sent.
Ms Wheeler, who was the Care.data accountable officer at DH, joined NHS England on 1 April as director for transformation and corporate operations.
She will oversee functions such as IT, human resources, and internal operations.
It is unclear at the moment if she will have a role in Care.data, which is headed up by Tim Kelsey, the director for patients and information.
An NHS England spokeswoman said: “We sent out the draft prospectus for comment and stakeholders and partners including [the Information Centre] made a number of comments and the prospectus was not published.”
A DH spokesman said the department had responded to concerns about Care.data by “making significant amendments to the Care Bill, providing rock-solid assurances that confidential patient information will not be used for commercial insurance purposes”.