05/12/2011 10:50 GMT | Updated 05/12/2011 12:10 GMT

Cameron: NHS Patient Data Could Be Shared With Private Companies

David Cameron has outlined plans to share NHS patient data with private companies as party of government efforts to boost the medical research industry.

The prime minister said the move would not threaten privacy but allow patient data to help with "medical breakthroughs".

Speaking in London on Monday, he said that as part of the "new paradigm" in life sciences "we must ensure that the UK stays ahead".

The plans are not without controversy. Campaign group Big Brother Watch warned the plans "could do untold damage to patient confidence in the NHS".

Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said the move could have a "detrimental effect on the vital relationship of trust between the doctor and patient", and Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused the government of putting the NHS up for sale, saying: "Labour prioritised support for the life science sector and we agree that it must be an important part of Britain's industrial future.

"But the prime minister has to tread carefully. What he calls red tape others might see as essential safeguards. Some areas need proper regulation and patient records is certainly one of them.

"Where we have a big difference with the PM is on his willingness to open up the NHS to the private sector. He sees no limit on the involvement of the private sector and says he wants it to be a 'fantastic business'. In his desperation to develop a credible industrial strategy, he seems willing to put large chunks of our NHS up for sale."

Cameron also announced plans to give patients faster-access to new drugs, and a £180m fund aimed to avoid new drugs being developed falling into the "valley of death" and never coming onto the market.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) welcomed the announcement.

“The prime minister is right to recognise that, with the economy still in turmoil, now is not the time to shrink from the big challenges of the future – we have to invest in our strengths in the knowledge economy now, or risk becoming uncompetitive and irrelevant," Director, Imran Khan, said.

So it’s particularly welcome that the government is putting its money where its mouth is by setting aside nearly £200m to catalyse the commercialisation of biomedical research – it’s the kind of thing that we need to help create jobs and growth.”