The full power of innovative digital technologies “will not be achieved” if the UK crashes out of the European Union without a deal, TechUK has warned.
It comes amid concerns there may be delays in sharing health data between the UK and the EU if Britain leaves without a deal on 31 October.
“Realising the full economic and social power of advanced, innovative digital technologies will not be achieved without data,” Neil Ross, policy manager at TechUK, wrote in a blog.
“Data is the fuel powering innovative fourth industrial revolution technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, AI and autonomous connected vehicles.
“If data is not able to flow smoothly between the UK, Europe and the rest of the world the UK’s ability to unlock the productive power of current and future digital technologies, as well as to continue to be a world leader in the development and adoption of responsible, digital innovation, will be put at risk.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Digital Health News it was working “closely” with the NHS to ensure continued flow of data after Brexit “whatever the circumstances”.
When the UK leaves the EU it will no longer be part of common data protection frameworks, including GDPR, meaning any data sent to and from the UK is given sufficient protections to comply with EU law.
The UK would have to apply for an adequacy decision from the EU to allow data to be transferred to and from the European Economic Area (EEA) without further safeguarding being necessary.
The length of time this process takes is uncertain, but the shortest adequacy decision reached so far, with Argentina, took 18 months, according to TechUK.
The European Commission has said it will not begin assessing the UK until it has left the EU.
But the DHSC remains confident the UKs data protection standards will ensure the continued flow of data for health research and clinical trials.
“We are working closely with the NHS and partners to ensure plans are in place to allow the seamless flow of data after the UK leaves the EU on 31 October, whatever the circumstances,” a spokesperson told Digital Health News.
“The UK already has the highest level of data protection standards, and we are confident our plans should ensure the UK remains a world-leading destination for health research and clinical trials.”
TechUK has called on the Government to apply for an adequacy agreement “immediately”, and before any attempts to reform UK data protection rules, in the event of a no-deal Brexit to minimise the impact on sectors reliant on data.
In February, NHS England and NHS Improvement issued guidance on sharing personal data in the event of a no-deal Brexit, urging providers to identify any databases or data flows stored in the EU that are critical to patient care.
In a letter sent out to healthcare organisations on 21 February, Dawn Monaghan, head of data sharing and privacy at NHSE, warned it was “imperative” providers contact NHSE or NHSI if they identified any of this data.
The letter cautioned there were “potential issues relating to the use of data” following a no-deal exit from the EU, which may include continued use of personal data and data flows from small suppliers.
It was unclear which data supplies might be affected, but Neil Bhatia, an information governance lead and data protection officer in Hampshire, suggested it could be related to large-scale clinical studies; medicine supply; and data analysis.
Until a decision is made, the NHS views the data flows as remaining unrestricted and can continue uninterrupted.
The DHSC is expected to publish updated guidance for trusts and suppliers before 31 October.
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