Taylor, Mark J. and Taylor, Natasha (2014) Health Research Access to Personal Confidential Data in England and Wales: Assessing any gap in public attitude between preferable and acceptable models of consent. Life Sciences, Society and Policy, 10 (15). pp. 1-24. ISSN 2195-7819

England and Wales are moving toward a model of ‘opt out’ for use of personal confidential data in health research. Existing research does not make clear how acceptable this move is to the public. While people are typically supportive of health research, when asked to describe the ideal level of control there is a marked lack of consensus over the preferred model of consent (e.g. explicit consent, opt out etc.).
This study sought to investigate a relatively unexplored difference between the consent model that people prefer and that which they are willing to accept. It also sought to explore any reasons for such acceptance. A mixed methods approach was used to gather data, incorporating a structured questionnaire and in-depth focus group discussions led by an external facilitator. The sampling strategy was designed to recruit people with different involvement in the NHS but typically with experience of NHS services. Three separate focus groups were carried out over three consecutive days. The central finding is that people are typically willing to accept models of consent other than that which they would prefer. Such acceptance is typically conditional upon a number of factors, including: security and confidentiality, no inappropriate commercialisation or detrimental use, transparency, independent overview, the ability to object to any processing considered to be inappropriate or particularly sensitive. This study suggests that most people would find research use without the possibility of objection to be unacceptable. However, the study also suggests that people who would prefer to be asked explicitly before data were used for purposes beyond direct care may be willing to accept an opt out model of consent if the reasons for not seeking explicit consent are accessible to them and they trust that data is only going to be used under conditions, and with safeguards, that they would consider to be acceptable even if not preferable.

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