The Government’s life sciences announcement and the debate on patient data

There is much to absorb us all in today’s speech by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, on life sciences and the associated package of intiiatives he has announced to boost medical research.

The headline contents of what has become known over the last few months as the ‘life sciences’ package were being widely trailed and rather oddly covered by some of the media yesterday. In fact, watching some of the coverage as it unfolded today, was rather dispiriting particularly when it came to those elements of the Government’s plans about the use of patient data for research purposes.

Unfortunately this is one of those issues where almost catholic mythology and false assumptions are used by both sides of the debate to shore-up established positions. The early part of the day seemed a case in point.

But now that the details of the plans are out in the open, perhaps we can be more considered and sober in our consideration of them.

Some strong views have inevitably been expressed on what the proposals mean for patient confidentiality. As strongly shared – although perhaps less well-aired so far today – is the view that patient choice is lmited by those rules around the use of patient data and medical records which make it more difficult for them to learn about clinical trials.

The path set out today to find a way forward would seem a good one. The message conveyed about protecting patient confidentiality as part of the plans, reassuring. The commitment to public consultation absolutely vital if the final proposals are to instil public confidence.

Indeed, for me, it is the fact that this issue is no more the preserve of policy wonks and policy wonkery where it has been ill-served for too long that is most important. Now it is in the open we have the opportunity to engage, to shape, to bring a sense of real-politik to bear. We must all step up to the call to respond.

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