Data from Apple watches and Fitbits should be donated to NHS, Tory MP says

Data collected by Apple watches and Fitbits should be anonymously donated to the NHS, because this could “transform the way that we look at curing cancer”, a Conservative former minister said.

Dean Russell said information such as our heartbeat and health attributes which are collected by these devices would “no doubt be invaluable” to clinicians and GPs.

In addition to proposing a data donation scheme, the MP for Watford said the Government should use the rise in artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the healthcare system while being “mindful of the risks”.

During the final day of debate on the Budget, Mr Russell said: “One of the key areas I think is about making sure that we use this rise of AI within healthcare, both with the benefits and the opportunities but also be mindful of the risks that this might bring.

“One of the risks I see is the increasing area around the digital divide, and what I ask is when we put this investment into the NHS, this investment into technology, that we don’t have a growing divide of those who have the ability to use the technology and those who have not.

“And what I would ask is when we’re developing these we don’t just cut off the ability for those who want face to face support, those who want to be able to go and see a receptionist or a person face-to-face, that we actually use the extra time that’s given through those who are using technology to provide access and the extra time to the face-to-face who need that support.”

Mr Russell said the investment in NHS productivity is a “great opportunity” for a data donor scheme.

He said: “Now every single day many of us have these various Apple watches, or Fitbits, or the ability to collect data that will no doubt be invaluable with AI and ability for GPs to diagnose issues, and for clinicians to use that.

Dean Russell
Dean Russell MP said health data collected by devices such as the Apple watch would ‘no doubt be invaluable’ to clinicians and GPs (Richard Townshend/PA)

“Imagine if each of us were able to anonymously donate data around our heartbeat, around our health attributes, perhaps when we’ve taken a particular new drug, to be able to share that data anonymously with the NHS, which could then be used as part of clinical trials and research.

“I think it could transform the way that we look at curing cancer, looking at finding a new way to help the health of the nation, but also identify potential risks that we may not have seen before.

“I think it’s a great opportunity, with this incredible investment, along with I believe £100 million investment that’s gone into the Turing Institute to look at how we can use AI in a better way.”

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