YouGov survey shows UK public strongly support the analysis of anonymised NHS patient data for medical research, but do not support this being conducted by multinational tech companies.

YouGov survey shows UK public strongly support the analysis of anonymised NHS patient data for medical research, but do not support this being conducted by multinational tech companies.

June 8, 2019

With growing interest in the potential for Artificial Intelligence to find solutions to complex health challenges and relieve pressure on the NHS, a recent YouGov survey of over 2,000 UK adults found that more than three quarters of the public (76%) support the analysis of anonymised NHS patient data by medical researchers in order to develop better treatments and improve diagnosis, disease prevention and care for patients. The research, which includes a survey of more than 100 MPs, also shows that the issue receives overwhelming parliamentary support, with 95% of MPs supporting big data analysis to improve treatment, and 81% saying they would support it as a way to relieve financial pressure on the NHS.

However, the public have strong views on the kinds of organisations they trust to conduct research using their data. The survey shows that only 13% of the public trust multinational tech companies to handle sensitive health data in a confidential manner. Similarly, just one in ten of respondents (11%) said they are happy for NHS data to be analysed by businesses that do not pay tax in the UK while 69% raised concerns about this information being analysed in other countries with different laws governing data security and confidentiality. More than three quarters (76%) of the public say that the UK needs a strong domestic AI sector so that it doesn’t have to be outsourced internationally.

Commenting on the findings, Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said:

“There’s little doubt that new technologies will play a part in delivering care in future, and the results from this study confirm that most people support the use of anonymised patient data for medical research purposes. There is also widespread support for data to be safeguarded and analysed in the UK – and the Patients Association agrees that data should be used only for research purposes, and never accessed or used inappropriately.
“The sharing of patients’ information between care institutions is essential to delivering joined-up care that works for the patient, and it is vitally important that this is done – with all appropriate safeguards, to ensure that sensitive information remains confidential.”

Overall, the research shows that the UK public expect NHS data to be protected as a national asset that benefits UK patients, the NHS and the country as a whole. 86% of people said the NHS should benefit from data analysis, with 81% saying explicitly that the Government should act to ensure that the NHS and taxpayers benefit financially. MPs felt similarly, with 79% viewing NHS patient data as a national resource and asset (rising to 87% of Labour MPs) and 80% calling on the Government to take formal steps to ensure that it is protected by law.

Sensyne Health plc was formed in partnership with the University of Oxford and the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Sensyne Health is a “for-profit business with social impact” that collaborates with NHS Trusts under Strategic Research Agreements to combine clinical artificial intelligence technology (“Clinical AI”) with ethically-sourced, anonymised patient data to help improve patient care, accelerate the discovery and development of new medicines and improve our understanding of disease and treatment.

Under the Strategic Research Agreements that Sensyne has with its NHS Trust partners, the NHS retains full control over patient data. Trusts that partner with Sensyne under these agreements are not restricted from using their patient data in any way, either locally or nationally. In fact Sensyne is working to help NHS Trusts improve the quality and curation of the data that they have. No data is sold nor is any ownership or control of data transferred to Sensyne or any third party.  

YouGov’s research reveals that 84% of MPs think financial pressure on the NHS is likely to increase in the future, and the same number advocate that the NHS should receive a fair share of any financial gains made from medical discoveries resulting from analysis of anonymised NHS patient data. Sensyne’s unique business model ensures these NHS Trusts receive a financial return from the commercialisation of any discoveries that come from the data that is analysed, for example if a new algorithm is developed to diagnose disease or a potential new medicine is discovered. This model ensures that value generated from analysing NHS patient data goes back into further improving patient treatment and care.

Sensyne Health is a strong supporter of the Government’s efforts to develop a national approach to health data analysis and enable innovation that accelerates medical research and delivers patient benefit. NHS patient data is the best in the world because of the free, single-provider healthcare system that we have in the UK. Clinical AI using anonymised patient data has the potential to lead to significant healthcare benefits, including improving patient outcomes and speeding up the medicine discovery and development process, ultimately alleviating pressure on the NHS.

Sensyne Health welcomes the findings from the YouGov research, and will continue to advocate its ‘double bottom line’ approach of business with social impact to ensure that the UK benefits from any medical insights or discoveries resulting from the analysis of anonymised NHS patient data.


Rt Hon Lord Drayson PhD FREng FMedSci
Chief Executive Officer
Sensyne Health plc