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Google has been given access to 1.6 million NHS patient records in a data-sharing agreement – as revealed by New Scientist.

The records, which includes full names and patient histories, are expected to help develop early warning systems for patients at risk of developing acute kidney problems.

Under the agreement, Google’s artificial intelligence division will have access to all data from patients at the Royal Free, Barnet and Chase Farm hospitals in London from the past five years – a relationship that will continue into 2017.

Although Google is said to be optimistic about the possibilities that could emerge from the research, critics have questioned why the corporation needs the data of all patients to create the specific application.

Sam Smith, a co-ordinator of patient data campaign group, MedConfidential, said, “The big question is why they want it. This a very rich data set. If you are someone who went to the A&E department, why is your data in this?”

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Google has justified its sourcing of all the data by stating that it also needed general data in order to identify patients who might be at risk of developing acute kidney injuries (AKI) and that it plans to use the information to develop an app known as Streams.

The application will be used to notify doctors when someone is at risk of developing AKI, which is a contributing factor of up to 20 per cent of emergency hospital treatments.

The NHS estimates that approximately a quarter of these treatments are preventable.

Dominic King, a senior scientist at Google DeepMind, said that:

Access to timely and relevant clinical data is essential for doctors and nurses looking for signs of patient deterioration. This work focuses on acute kidney injuries that contribute to 40,000 deaths a year in the UK, many of which are preventable.

The kidney specialists who have led this work are confident that the alerts our system generates will transform outcomes for their patients. For us to generate these alerts it is necessary for us to look at a range of tests taken at different time intervals

Google has reassured the public that it shall only use the data provided for medicinal purposes and shall be kept separate from all other products and accounts.

The corporation has big ambitions in healthcare, having looked to tackle the problem of ageing with its company, Calico, which it set up in 2013.

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