Public opinion on sharing data from health services for clinical and research purposes without explicit consent: an anonymous online survey in the UK.


Objectives: UK National Health Service/Health and Social Care (NHS/HSC) data are variably shared between healthcare organisations for direct care, and increasingly de-identified for research. Few large-scale studies have examined public opinion on sharing, including of mental health (MH) versus physical health (PH) data. We measured data sharing preferences. Design/setting/interventions/outcomes: Pre-registered anonymous online survey, measuring expressed preferences, recruiting February to September 2020. Participants were randomised to one of three framing statements regarding MH versus PH data. Participants: Open to all UK residents. Participants numbered 29 275; 40% had experienced an MH condition. Results: Most (76%) supported identifiable data sharing for direct clinical care without explicit consent, but 20% opposed this. Preference for clinical/identifiable sharing decreased with geographical distance and was slightly less for MH than PH data, with small framing effects. Preference for research/de-identified data sharing without explicit consent showed the same small PH/MH and framing effects, plus greater preference for sharing structured data than de-identified free text. There was net support for research sharing to the NHS, academic institutions, and national research charities, net ambivalence about sharing to profit-making companies researching treatments, and net opposition to sharing to other companies (similar to sharing publicly). De-identified linkage to non-health data was generally supported, except to data held by private companies. We report demographic influences on preference. A majority (89%) supported a single NHS mechanism to choose uses of their data. Support for data sharing increased during COVID-19. Conclusions: Support for healthcare data sharing for direct care without explicit consent is broad but not universal. There is net support for the sharing of de-identified data for research to the NHS, academia, and the charitable sector, but not the commercial sector. A single national NHS-hosted system for patients to control the use of their NHS data for clinical purposes and for research would have broad support. Trial registration number: ISRCTN37444142.