This week’s HEAL event: Malcolm Oswald on health data

In 2014, Meetings on January 6, 2014 at 8:00 am

This week’s HEAL event is with Malcolm Oswald, from the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy at the University of Manchester, speaking on ‘Drawing the line between identifiable and anonymised health data: dilemmas for a conscientious public servant’. We will be in room 2007/4 (Law, Highfield campus), from 3-5pm on Wednesday 8 January 2014. All welcome – please let Adrian (A.M.Viens@soton.ac.uk) know if you plan to join us, so we can keep an eye on numbers.


Researchers, commissioners, pharmaceutical companies, even the Prime Minister, want to use the “big data” within heath records for public and private good. However, the law tells us to draw a line between anonymised data which can be used for “secondary purposes” like research and commissioning, and identifiable data, which should be protected.

But where should the line be drawn? The law provides relatively little guidance. The truth is that almost all useful datasets, and any datasets for “big data” processing, fall somewhere between these two extremes. But what does that mean for policy? If “anonymised data” almost inevitably carries some small risk of identifying patients, should the public be asked for consent before anonymised data are processed? If so, how is the population to be informed and asked? Should resources be spent on such a communication campaign rather than patient care? What is a conscientious public official to do?

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