Medical data held by our GPs is the most valuable healthcare data around; far richer and more complete than other forms of healthcare information. We all have a unique relationship with our GPs, who hold information about us built up over the years – requiring and creating a trusted relationship.

Therefore it may come as surprise that the NHS is preparing for what has been described by some as the "biggest data grab" in the history of the service. We have been given no notification about the planned transfer of medical records from GP surgeries in England to a central store (NHS Digital, which runs the country’s healthcare IT systems) nor information about our right to opt out. It is claimed the data will be used for research purposes, but private companies will also be allowed access. Once transferred there is no possibility for us to get our data deleted.

Campaigners and doctors have expressed alarm that such a wide-ranging data haul is in the offing when health services and patients are still swamped by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with little time to focus on the details of data privacy.

That’s why last week lawyers challenged the government’s controversial plans to extract our medical records from our GPs without proper consultation or informed consent. A legal letter to the government warns that unless the health department pauses the GP data grab – due to go ahead on 1 July – and seeks transparent patient consent, they will seek a court injunction to halt the scheme.

This is about trust and our right to know. Maybe after consideration you will be happy with your data being shared, maybe not. But such a decision has to be made on an informed basis. The government must involve and inform patients so they have a meaningful chance to opt out before they progress any such policy.

Neither the British Medical Association (BMA) nor the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) endorsed the current plans.

On 12 May, health secretary Matt Hancock quietly issued a legal instruction to every GP in England to upload their patient records to a central database, with patients given just a few weeks to find out about the plans. Those ‘few weeks’ expire on 23 June and you can if you wish, download the ‘opt out letter’ at:

Barry White