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Public is more comfortable with health data sharing if they know it is to support breakthrough treatments and vaccines

By Andrew Harrison

Timely access to anonymised health data has been central to UK and global pandemic responses. It has accelerated and improved understanding of the virus, the development and assessment of vaccines, treatments and public health strategies. Yet YouGov polling commissioned by Hanover indicates that the UK public’s opinions on the sharing of healthcare data have not shifted dramatically.

When asked if their willingness to share their data has changed since the onset of the pandemic, over half (52%) reported no change in their willingness, with an equal 20% less likely to share and only 19% more likely.

In 2016, following the withdrawal of the care.data initiative, IPSOS Mori polling found 54% of people supported commercial organisations accessing their health data, with only 26% opposing. While the precise questions differed, today’s findings point to a potential overall decline in public trust in the intervening years.

Enhanced communications by those accessing anonymised health data is essential. The indefinite delay of the General Practice Data for Planning and Research system, following criticism, is further evidence of this.

The poll showed less than half of adults (43%) feel that they understand how health data is shared and used. Meanwhile, fewer than one in four would be comfortable with charities (19%) and pharmaceutical companies (23%) accessing their anonymised health data, compared with 59% for the NHS and public research bodies.

But the poll indicates the clear impact communication could have. Six in ten (59%) would be more comfortable sharing their data if they had a choice regarding what it was being used for, and over half (53%) if they knew who was accessing it.

Similarly, those willing to share their data with pharmaceutical companies jumps from 23% to 60% if used to support the research and development of new treatments and vaccines or monitor safety and effectiveness.

The pandemic has shown there are major benefits to be seized through better data sharing. Transparent proactive communications to build trust is key. The NHS and government and the research community (charities, commercial and academic organisations) should redouble their efforts to explain the use of data and its positive outcomes.

Andrew Harrison is Group Managing Director Hanover Health, part of Hanover Communications

in association with

29th September 2021

From: Research

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