THOUSANDS of people in Redditch have opted out of sharing their medical records for healthcare research and planning, figures show.

The sharing of patient data is "vital" to research into life-changing illnesses including cancer, diabetes and long Covid and has been pivotal in developing responses to the coronavirus pandemic, according to NHS Digital.

But its figures show 4,300 people in Redditch had signed up to the national data opt-out scheme by September 1.

The scheme allows patients to prevent confidential information held by NHS Digital from being used for purposes other than their care and treatment.

It is different from another 'type 1' opt-out scheme, which prevents NHS Digital from collecting information from GP records.

NHS Digital figures show 2,367 patients in the area signed up to the scheme, which first launched in 2018, between May and September this year alone, 55 per cent of the total.

They were among more than a million people to do so across England over the same period, meaning more than 3 million patients have now set a data opt-out.

A spokeswoman for NHS Digital said medical research and planning benefits everyone, but is "only as good as the data it is based on" as she urged patients to ensure they are making an informed decision.

She said the NHS took its data safeguarding responsibilities seriously and that data collected would only ever be used by organisations with a legitimate need to access it.

Cori Crider, director of digital rights organisation Foxglove said the latest opt-out scheme figures showed patients were not reassured about what was going to happen to their medical data.

She said: "Only a fair, safe, trustworthy system that doesn't let corporations exploit the NHS for private profit will get the three million people who have opted out to consider thinking again."