• NHS trusts to be told not to sign exclusive deals to share NHS patient data with tech companies
  • Concerns that one-off deals could leave holes in national data sets
  • Comes amid renewed focus on collecting and sharing data nationally to support the life sciences industry

NHS trusts will be ordered not to enter into deals in which they share patient information exclusively with one tech company, for fear it will undermine national efforts.

Multiple senior NHS sources have told HSJ a letter will shortly go out from the Department of Health and Social Care telling trusts they should not enter an exclusive commercial arrangement to share patient data.

HSJ has been told there is a growing concern at the centre about “naive” and “unsophisticated” one-off deals between individual trusts and technology companies that may prevent sharing patient data for other purposes. These deals could also undermine government efforts to collect and share patient data nationally.

Several tech companies have signed data-sharing deals with NHS hospital trusts to help them develop and test software, including artificial intelligence. AI company Google Deepmind has signed several data-sharing deals with NHS trusts, most notably with Royal Free London Foundation Trust – an arrangement later deemed unlawful.

Sensyne Health has a data sharing deal with Oxford University Hospitals Trust to help develop software, including AI, and has similar arrangements with several smaller hospital trusts in the West Midlands.

There is no suggestion either of these companies have exclusivity clauses in their contracts with trusts. But multiple sources told HSJ some tech firms are seeking exclusive access to NHS trust patient data.

One NHS source said: “What we very strongly want to stop happening is trusts giving anyone exclusivity on that data. If they don’t give exclusively, we can still pull that data together in the centre and use it at the level of the nation, where the real value accrues.”

When approached by HSJ, NHS England chair Lord David Prior said it was “wrong” for trusts to enter exclusive deals with tech companies and any such sharing should be done at a national level with appropriate consent and safeguards. “It should be across the NHS and not with individual trusts”, he said.

In September last year, the DHSC published a code of conduct for “data-driven health and care technology”. Among other recommendations, it advised NHS organisations that: “Careful consideration should be given before granting exclusivity of access to data, as exclusivity can limit the benefit to the health and care system.”

The move comes amid a renewed effort by policymakers to collect, link and share NHS patient data regionally and nationally, and use it to support industry, particularly the life sciences.

A Deepmind spokesman said: ”We are supportive of DHSC’s code of conduct for data-driven health and care technology and can confirm that DeepMind Health does not have any patient data exclusivity arrangements with our NHS partners.”

The DHSC was contacted for comment.

This story was updated with Deepmind’s comment on 23 May.