Briefing for House of Lords debate on protecting the NHS in future trade deals

4th July 2019

It has been widely reported that a no-deal Brexit or, indeed, Brexit of any kind is liable to impact healthcare trials and other projects pursuing medical innovations, in particular, where they are reliant upon cross-border cooperation in respect of data sharing. One of the areas about which far less has been said, to date, is the potential for future data sharing arrangements with non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries to impact ongoing efforts to build and maintain public trust in the use of patient data controlled and/or generated by the NHS in order to develop new treatments and technologies.

In recent years, we have undertaken extensive research, policy development and advocacy activities as well as producing several publications which explore whether and how the UK might better harness the clinical, social, economic and commercial value of healthcare data whilst championing the rights of individuals – including: Intelligent Sharing (2017) and Taking Next Steps to Harness the Value of Health and Care Data (2019).

The need to safeguard patient data is, of course, taken very seriously by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the UK has already enacted laws enshrining the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) into national legislation. However, Brexit is not only about our future relationship with EU Member States – it is also about the freedom to enter trade agreements in our own right. With that in mind, we recommended that the Government develop a dedicated ‘privacy shield’ for UK health and care data, applicable to any future trade negotiations outside Europe, as highlighted in our Intelligent Sharing report and would wish to emphasise here that such a shield is needed more now than ever.

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