Campaign highlights valuable role of patient records in research

In collaboration with the Press Association

Leading medical research charities have launched an advertising campaign to raise awareness of the importance of sharing information from patient records with researchers.

“Much of the progress we’ve made in understanding cancer is based on analysing patient records." - Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK

Patient records hold valuable information that could help save and improve lives, according to the charities.

By allowing researchers access to the information held in medical records, the public can contribute towards research into the causes of disease, developing new and better medicines and identifying new outbreaks of infection.

The campaign is supported by Arthritis Research UK, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation and is funded by the Wellcome Trust. It highlights that the way patient records are used in England is changing.

A new NHS England system will allow anonymised patient information to be stored centrally and to be shared to help improve care and research.

Patients will also be given the right to object to their data being stored within a central repository.

“Advances in medical research rely on access to the records of patients. The UK is in a unique position in this area because it has more comprehensive data than anywhere else in the world,” said Dr Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK.

“Much of the progress we’ve made in understanding cancer is based on analysing patient records - helping us understand the causes of the disease and increasing our knowledge of how to prevent it as well as finding new ways to diagnose cancer earlier when treatment is more likely to be successful.

“All of this work is - and as we understand it will continue to be - carried out under strict regulations and ethical guidelines.”

Health data previously played a major part in uncovering the link between smoking and lung cancer during the 1950s.

And the health data of children with autism born since 1979 in eight UK health districts has helped scientists establish that there is no link between the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccination and autism.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “With the correct and necessary safeguards in place to assure public confidence, our patient records will provide a rich source of important data that can help researchers develop much needed treatments and interventions that can improve and even save people's lives."

Copyright Press Association 2014