Sir Tony Blair and Lord Hague have issued a joint call for NHS medical records to be sold to fund the development of cutting-edge treatments.
Britain’s former prime minister and the ex-Conservative leader have produced a report of more than 40 recommendations on regulation and state support, to help the UK remain at the forefront of growth in artificial intelligence and biotechnology.
The NHS medical records would be anonymised and sold to an independent company, free of government interference, which would “strictly preserve privacy while bringing massive benefits to research, public health and patient treatment”.
A new approach is needed to provide commercial access to records, the report said, adding that a “national purpose” to support new discoveries will be key to economic growth.
Writing in The Times newspaper, Sir Tony and Lord Hague hailed the beginning of “extraordinary age of gene therapies, new antibiotics and molecular factories”.
“Nothing will be more important to British jobs, living standards and security in the coming years than leading the world in science and innovation,” they wrote.
“We will have to keep moving quickly if we are to be one of the main homes of changes so dramatic that they will alter forever the way we live and restructure much of the global economy.”
They believe data from millions of NHS records could provide a key platform for AI to monitor patients via wearable technology and alert doctors of problems.
The report also proposes patients have access to a “personal health account” via the NHS app to book appointments and manage treatment.
This will create a laboratory of biodesign – a process to identify and find solutions to unmet healthcare needs – helping biotech companies scale up and creating strong international biosecurity.
“Biotech is promising a future of new cures and treatments for many diseases, more personalised and effective healthcare, and many new materials and transformed manufacturing processes,” Sir Tony and Lord Hague added.
The pair had weekly showdowns at the despatch box when Sir Tony was Labour prime minister while Lord Hague led the Conservative opposition.
But they wrote: “Whatever our political differences on more traditional issues, we both believe that this is the crucial task that, more than anything else, will determine the future prosperity of Britain.”
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The report on biotechnology is the third collaboration by Sir Tony and Lord Hague.
Last summer they called for the UK to establish a “national laboratory” to test out AI in a bid to become the “brain” of both a British and international regulator.
A “complete realignment” is needed, including an overhaul of government machinery, to respond to the “radically reshaped” society that the technology is expected to bring, the former leaders said.
Earlier this year, both men called for ministers to roll out digital ID cards as part of a “fundamental reshaping of the state around technology”.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, the former Labour leader warned the NHS is “not serving its purpose” and must “cooperate with the private sector”.