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NHS England Announces New Partnership With Amazon’s Alexa

By Kane Shaw, Press Officer

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has today announced that Amazon's AI powered voice assistant Alexa will be able to scan the NHS website in order to provide NHS verified answers to users health related queries.

The voice assisted technology's algorithms will scan the NHS website in order to provide answers to questions such as "how do I treat a migraine?" and "what are the symptoms of flu?".

The government has heralded the new partnership as a breakthrough for elderly and blind patients who would struggle to access online NHS advice through traditional means.

In a press release on the government website Matt Hancock  had the following to say:

"We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare and technology like this is a great example of how people can access reliable, world-leading NHS advice from the comfort of their home, reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs and pharmacists."

"Through the NHS Long Term Plan, we want to embrace the advances in technology to build a health and care system that is fit for the future and NHSX will drive this revolution to bring the benefits to every patient, clinician and carer."

Since becoming Secretary of State for Health and Social Care after his predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, was shifted to the Foreign Office, Matt Hancock has made technology - and in particular the insistence that the NHS must modernise through the uptake of new technologies - the central pillar of his approach to running the NHS.

However, this has resulted in a number of worrying developments. One of these being his championing of the uptake of privately owned app GP at Hand which is now believed to have seriously destabilised the financial foundations of general practice.

The Health Secretary's decision to promote the uptake of the app was also undertaken at a time when the Care Quality Commission had not verified the clinical efficacy of the app.

It appears that this most recent decision to embark upon a partnership with Amazon has likewise not yet been subject to proper independent scrutiny in regard to what the effects are for the privacy of NHS patients.

Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West, reacted to the news by claiming he would be raising the issue with the Information Commissioner's Office, the Science and Technology Select Committee and the Competition and Markets Authority. On Twitter he wrote the following:

"This should not be happening until Parliament has scrutinised what actually happens with our health data and what terms are agreed with Amazon."

"We must understand how our health data is being transferred and processed, not just stored, what value Amazon gets from using our data/the service and what value the NHS gets for releasing it."

"And, finally, we need it confirmed urgently that NHS data will be specifically excluded from any proposed US/UK trade deal in the future. I’m a tech evangelist but you can’t just rush these things without proper scrutiny and accountability."

In this instance the National Health Action Party concurs with the analysis of Mr Jones. As this appears to be another case of the Health Secretary's having jumped the gun and diving in two feet first before going through due process to safeguard the privacy and safety of patients.