Data Sharing, Cyber Attacks and Digital Trust

Last week, current affairs media outlet Racontuer published a piece titled, ‘Would you share your patient data to save lives?’, this was then followed with the subtext, ‘Used ethically, NHS patient data has the potential to improve healthcare and save lives.

On Friday the news then hit that a global cyber attack had hit 48 of the UK’s NHS trusts. Understandably, the public response has been overwhelmingly negative. People are worried that their data has been accessed without their consent, and questions over how this could have happened to such an important UK sector have started to arise.

So, what now?

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An update on the cyber attack
The screen that NHS staff were greeted with on Friday afternoon.
The screen that NHS staff were greeted with on Friday afternoon.

At the time of writing, there have been no reports of patient data being compromised. That said, the cyber attack has caused chaos within the country’s health services. Elected surgery appointments have been cancelled, and at the time of the incident people were told not to attend A&E unless for true emergencies. The NHS wasn’t the only victim; hundreds of organisations have been impacted across various sectors around the world.

The state of the UK’s digital trust

A survey published earlier this year shows UK citizens have low levels of trust in healthcare data protection. The poll, conducted by Nielsen between November last year and January 2017, shows only 11% of people interviewed would describe themselves as ‘very confident’ when it comes to trust in data security measures taken by healthcare providers to minimise risk of cyber attacks. Only 5% would describe themselves as ‘very confident’ health tech companies would protect their personal information.

cyber attack

Since the NHS cyber attack, public trust will undoubtedly have dropped further.

Why is digital trust so important anyway?

Like the article in The Times said, ‘Used ethically, NHS patient data has the potential to improve healthcare and save lives.’ That is in no way an over-exaggeration, a pipedream, or something we simply hope for. The patient data that the NHS holds can prevent funds being wasted on drugs that don’t work, improve feasibility studies, and ensure clinical trials recruit the quantity of patients they need. Ignite Data are already working with clients to ensure the ethical sharing of patient data to advance health.

How can we improve digital trust?

It’s clear that trust in the ethical sharing of protected data needs to be improved. From an industry point of view, digital trust is the currency of today and will be central to defining the high performers of tomorrow. From a consumer’s point of view though; we want our data to be protected.

The Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity, has launched a new website that provides resources aiming to tackle challenges surrounding patient data-sharing.

Entitled ‘Understanding Patient Data’, the website has been set up in response to recommendations set out in last year’s Caldicott report. The site offers a wide array of ‘comprehensive, and searchable, bank of case studies’.

The website will also allow the scientific world to gain an insight into public attitudes currently. Knowing what the public think, and what they want to happen with regards to the sharing of their anonymised data will ensure future governance frameworks and technologies are developed in-line with public demand.

Ignite Data was born from a passion to improve patient lives by working with healthcare organisations to accelerate the development and assessment of new treatments. We want to assure you that the projects are working on, and the data we are handling, are all used in an appropriate and ethical way to ensure we are working to improve the lives of patients. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us.