BACKGROUND: England operates a National Data Opt-Out (NDOO) for the secondary use of confidential health data for research and planning. We hypothesised that public awareness and support for the secondary use of health data and the NDOO would vary by participant demography and healthcare experience. We explored patient/public awareness and perceptions of secondary data use, grouping potential researchers into National Health Service (NHS), academia or commercial. We assessed awareness of the NDOO system amongst patients, carers, healthcare staff and the public. We co-developed recommendations to consider when sharing unconsented health data for research.
METHODS: A patient and public engagement program, co-created and including patient and public workshops, questionnaires and discussion groups regarding anonymised health data use.
RESULTS: There were 350 participants in total. Central concerns for health data use included unauthorised data re-use, the potential for discrimination and data sharing without patient benefit. 94% of respondents were happy for their data to be used for NHS research, 85% for academic research and 68% by health companies, but less than 50% for non-healthcare companies and opinions varied with demography and participant group. Questionnaires showed that knowledge of the NDOO was low, with 32% of all respondents, 53% of all NHS staff and 29% of all patients aware of the NDOO. Recommendations to guide unconsented secondary health data use included that health data use should benefit patients; data sharing decisions should involve patients/public. That data should remain in close proximity to health services with the principles of data minimisation applied. Further, that there should be transparency in secondary health data use, including publicly available lists of projects, summaries and benefits. Finally, organisations involved in data access decisions should participate in programmes to increase knowledge of the NDOO, to ensure public members were making informed choices about their own data.
CONCLUSION: The majority of participants in this study reported that the use of healthcare data for secondary purposes was acceptable when accessed by NHS. Academic and health-focused companies. However, awareness was limited, including of the NDOO. Further development of publicly-agreed recommendations for secondary health data use may improve both awareness and confidence in secondary health data use.