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It is widely acknowledged that trust plays an important role for the acceptability of data sharing practices in research and healthcare, and for the adoption of new health technologies such as AI. Yet there is reported distrust in this domain. Although in the UK, the NHS is one of the most trusted public institutions, public trust does not appear to accompany its data sharing practices for research and innovation, specifically with the private sector, that have been introduced in recent years. In this paper, we examine the question of, what is it about sharing NHS data for research and innovation with for-profit companies that challenges public trust? To address this question, we draw from political theory to provide an account of public trust that helps better understand the relationship between the public and the NHS within a democratic context, as well as, the kind of obligations and expectations that govern this relationship. Then we examine whether the way in which the NHS is managing patient data and its collaboration with the private sector fit under this trust-based relationship. We argue that the datafication of healthcare and the broader 'health and wealth' agenda adopted by consecutive UK governments represent a major shift in the institutional character of the NHS, which brings into question the meaning of public good the NHS is expected to provide, challenging public trust. We conclude by suggesting that to address the problem of public trust, a theoretical and empirical examination of the benefits but also the costs associated with this shift needs to take place, as well as an open conversation at public level to determine what values should be promoted by a public institution like the NHS.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC medical ethics

Publication Date





Ethox Centre, Oxford Population Health (Nuffield Department of Population Health, Big Data Institute, Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery Oxford, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


Humans, Trust, Qualitative Research, State Medicine, Delivery of Health Care