A LEADING York GP has welcomed the government's decision to delay introduction of a controversial centralised databank of NHS patient records.

The new GP data sharing system was due to start in July - and patients were given only until June 23 to opt out of allowing their records to be included. But introduction of the system has now been pushed back to September 1, health minister Jo Churchill told MPs earlier this week.

The British Medical Association (BMA) had been arguing for a delay to give patients time to understand the system and choose to opt-out if they wished. Today local GP Dr Brian McGregor, who is chair of both the YOR Local Medical Committee and of the BMA's Yorkshire Regional Council, said: "We are pleased that the government has listened. This is the best result for patients.

"It allows time to have an informed discussion and debate to ensure that everybody is aware of what is happening."

The scheme, known as GP Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR), will collect information on people's treatments, referrals and appointments over the past 10 years, alongside other data from medical records held on GPs' systems, and transfer it all to a central database.

The government says that collected data will be coded by NHS Digital to protect patient identities - and that it will be used for research and to develop new approaches to treatment. Ms Churchill told MPs: "Data saves lives, it's as simple as that. We've seen that in the pandemic, it's one of the lessons of the vaccine rollout."

But many patients and medics feared that the 'anonymised' data may not be completely confidential - and that it could find its way into the hands of private companies. There were also concerns the system for opting out was not clear.

Before the decision was taken to delay the introduction, Dr McGregor warned it was 'Big Brother writ large' and said he was worried what the information could be used for. "It could potentially be used by people like insurance companies to raise premiums," he said.

But he said delaying the implementation of the system should allow these concerns to be addressed - and give patients the chance to make an informed decision about whether they wanted to opt out.

"I think you will find much stronger safeguards and frameworks put in place now that it is in everybody's headlights," he said.