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Public trusts NHS most on data ethics


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The NHS is outstripping central and local government in winning public trust for how it uses personal data, according to findings from a new survey.

The Open Data Institute (ODI), working with pollster YouGov, has tested public attitudes on the issue, revealing that the health service came top but the financial sector beat most other parts of the public sector on perceptions of using data ethically.

Of the 2,000 adults questioned, 59% said they trust the NHS to be ethical in its use of their data, the only sector to score more than 50%. However, this shows a decline since a survey focused on healthcare data in early 2018, which recorded a score of 64%.

In the new exercise, emergency services scored 47%, banks and building societies 42%, local government 31%, central government 30% and universities 18%. Family and friends came out well off the top at 34%.

Other findings included that 44% feel that government and regulators should be most responsible for making sure personal data is handled ethically.

Necessity factor

In identifying the key factor in ethical behaviour, a small majority of 52% pointed to only collecting the necessary personal data to provide a service.

The survey also pointed to a split in how well people feel they understand data protection and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with 57% saying they understood it fairly or very well, and 41% saying not very well or not at all.

The ODI highlighted the rising importance of data ethics as organisations rely more on data to improve their operations and personalise services. The general feeling is that the roll out of regulations such as the GDPR and media coverage has raised people’s awareness of their data rights and the potential for misuse.


Jeni Tennison, the ODI’s chief executive, said: “The survey shows us that people quite rightly expect organisations to use their personal data ethically.

“The survey shows us that people quite rightly expect organisations to use personal data ethically. Organisations need to respond to their concerns and be more trustworthy in how they collect and use personal data. This is not only the right thing to do, it will help organisations to keep benefiting from the data they rely on and retain the trust of their customers and employees.

“Talking about using data ethically is not enough, organisations need to publicly demonstrate how they do this in order to build trust.”

Image from iStock

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