Data stored in a server centreGoogle has hosted its first ever patient engagement forum in London, UK, this month, as part of an initiative to forge a closer partnership with the public. The event comes in the wake of concerns about the level of data access that the company’s artificial intelligence unit DeepMind enjoys to NHS medical records.

“Patients are at the heart of what we do and as we embark on this decade-long opportunity, we really need a diverse group of people to help us design the products,” said Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind and head of DeepMind Health.

The forum contained a mix of speeches from doctors and patients involved in DeepMind’s trials, as well as views from audience members. Data-sharing advocate Graham Silk, diagnosed with leukemia in 2001, took part in a clinical trial after contributing his data for research. Silk has since set up a charity that aims to connect doctors and patients. 

“Millions go on Amazon every day and give away their name, address, bank account details and it is bizarre that they don’t feel the same about health data which has the power to do the most good,” he said.

But not all the responses to Google’s event were positive. Reporting from the event, Jane Wakefield from the BBC spoke to audience members at the event about their concerns. 

“What was astounding to me, was the sense of entitlement that this commercial company clearly feels to access NHS patient medical records without consent and that many in the room seemed to have accepted that unquestioningly,” said Jen Persson, a co-ordinator from campaign group Defenddigitalme.

“Patients have been left out so far of what DeepMind has done. The firm is not at the start of ‘patient and public engagement’ as it put it, but playing catch-up after getting caught getting it wrong,” she added.

Read Jane Wakefield’s full report here.