Over recent years, multiple NHS trusts have signed a partnership with Sensyne Health Plc, a company which uses artificial intelligence to analyse medical data. These contracts involved the Trusts providing NHS patient data in return for shares.
As of January 2022, Sensyne reported that it had a database of 48.3 million patient records, including records of 12.9 million UK patients which Sensyne claimed were ‘anonymised’.
As a result of poor performance over recent months, Sensyne has been forced to refinance and propose to delist from AIM. All of this comes on top of the fact that the shares acquired by the NHS Trusts under their agreements are already likely to be worth far less, compared to their anticipated value to the NHS Trusts when the agreements were first signed.
Monika Sobiecki, data protection specialist and partner in our Media and Information law team, has been advising an independent, non-partisan NGO called medConfidential on the risks to patient data, and assisting medConfidential in communicating the data protection issues and ramifications of these events to the NHS Trusts.
Crucially, next month, the NHS Trusts will have the option of voting to have their valuable stake in the form of shares in Sensyne wiped out by the delisting, or to terminate their strategic research and/or data sharing agreements with Sensyne. In light of this, medConfidential has sent an urgent letter to all CEOs and Data Protection Officers of the relevant NHS Trusts, in which the Trusts are strongly advised to exercise their rights to terminate their contracts, and ensure that Sensyne deletes all patient data that it has already received.
Monika Sobiecki, partner at Bindmans LLP who has been advising medConfidential, comments:
Health data is extremely sensitive. This means that giving due attention to the data protection safeguards applied to patient records before data sharing occurs, is paramount. Doubly so where the data is our NHS patient data, which is going to be processed by algorithms, and potentially even shared with other third parties. Our client’s opinion is that in this most high profile of examples of data sharing of patient records, due attention may not have been given. Therefore, an urgent communication has been sent to the relevant NHS Trusts to allow them to take an informed decision now on the exercise of their rights under their contracts with Sensyne at this crucial point in time.
Phil Booth, coordinator at medConfidential, comments:
Thirteen NHS Trusts paid with their patients’ data in deals which no longer have value, on the promise of returns to the NHS that haven’t materialised. Rather than carrying on a relationship that will make their patients guinea pigs for business models as yet unknown and undefined, the responsible course of action for the Trusts is to terminate their current agreements and require Sensyne to return or delete the NHS patient data it holds. If the company does manage to sort out the mess its previous management left it in, any new proposition must be examined on its own merits.
medConfidential is an independent, non-partisan NGO working with patients and medics, service users and care professionals to campaign for confidentiality, consent and appropriate safeguards to be applied to the use of health and social care records.
Read medConfidential’s letter, sent to the thirteen NHS Trusts here.