LONDON, 15 Nov (APM) - Some of the UK’s most popular health websites are sharing people's sensitive data — including medical symptoms, diagnoses, drug names and menstrual and fertility information — to dozens of companies around the world, according to an investigation by the Financial Times.
It said on Wednesday the data are being shares to companies ranging from ad-targeting giants such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Oracle, to lesser-known data-brokers and adtech firms like Scorecard and OpenX.
Using open-source tools to analyse 100 health websites, which include WebMD, Healthline, Babycentre and Bupa, an FT investigation found that 79% of the sites dropped "cookies" — little bits of code that, when embedded in your browser, allow third-party companies to track individuals around the internet. This was done without the consent that is a legal requirement in the UK.
Google's advertising arm DoubleClick was by far the most common destination for data, showing up on 78% of the sites tested, followed by Amazon, which was present in 48% of cases, Facebook, Microsoft and adtech firm AppNexus.
The FT quoted Wolfie Christl, a technologist and researcher who has been investigating the adtech industry, as saying: "These findings are quite remarkable, and very concerning."
"From my perspective, this kind of data is clearly sensitive, has special protections under the [General Data Protection Regulation] and transmitting this data most likely violates the law."
Conservatives make more 'empty promises' on recruiting extra GPs
The Conservatives have been accused of making "empty" promises about the NHS after pledging to create 50 million more GP appointments every year, the Times on Sunday reported.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the additional appointments would be made possible by recruiting an extra 6,000 family doctors, the paper noted. The promises come ahead of the UK general election, which is planned for 12 December.
But the party came under fire on Saturday over its latest pledge after failing to deliver on its previous one in 2015 to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs.
Since then, the number of family doctors has actually fallen by more than 1,600.
The Tories now insist they will train 500 more GPs each year starting from 2021-22, with trainees doing a greater proportion of their training in surgeries. By 2024-25, when the extra appointments should be available to patients, this will, in theory, create an additional 3,000 doctors in general practice, the paper said.
Labour promise to outbid Conservatives on NHS funding
Meanwhile, Labour, the UK opposition, has focused its election promises on outbidding the Tories on NHS funding by £6 billion.
The news was covered by the FT on Tuesday, and was widely reported on Wednesday by other publications including the BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s spending plans would bring the previous Conservative government's pledge - in which it promised an extra £20.5 billion for the NHS by 2023/24 compared with 2018/19 - up to a total of £26 billion in real-terms funding, the FT noted.
It would amount to a 4.3% annual funding increase over the next four years, compared to current spending, against a Tory pledge of a 3.4% increase, the FT added, noting health is a key battleground in any UK election.
On Wednesday, The Guardian quoted shadow chancellor John McDonnell as saying Labour’s NHS "rescue package" will be funded by higher income tax rates, at 45p for those earning more than £80,000 a year and 50p for those bringing in over £150,000.
NHS will need 40 new hospitals if Labour bars private sector - providers
Labour's election promises also include phasing out private contracts paid for by the NHS and bringing the services back in house.
More than 40 new hospitals would be needed in England if an incoming Labour government barred private companies from delivering NHS-funded care, the FT quoted the organisation representing independent providers as saying.
As it seeks to make the case for its continued role in the face of Labour's anti-privatisation drive, the Independent Healthcare Providers Network said the sector performed 11.2% of all non-urgent care, amounting to 436,000 operations a year.
Meanwhile, Labour was dragged into a row over whether its plans for a 32-hour week — without any loss of pay — would mean a multibillion pound increase in the NHS pay bill, the FT added.
AbbVie sells $30 billion of bonds to finance Allergan takeover
AbbVie sealed one of the largest U.S. corporate bond deals on record on Tuesday to finance its $83 billion takeover of rival Allergan, the FT reported the same day.
The U.S. pharmaceuticals group borrowed $30 billion from investors clamouring for investment-grade debt, in a bond offering split across 10 different maturities from 18 months to 30 years.
The deal was the biggest bond offering since the healthcare and drugstore operator CVS raised $40 billion in March last year to fund its takeover of the insurer Aetna. It ranked as the fourth-largest bond sale ever completed, also trailing a $46 billion offering from the brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2016 and the record $49 billion raised by Verizon in 2013 to buy the stake in its wireless unit it did not already own.
U.S. regulator issues first approval for a Chinese cancer treatment
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued its first ever approval for a Chinese-developed innovative cancer treatment, marking a breakthrough for China's emerging biotech sector, the FT said on Friday.
It has approved zanubrutinib for mantle cell lymphoma, a rare kind of blood cancer, for use by patients who have received one prior therapy for the disease.
Chinese company BeiGene developed the treatment in Beijing under the name Brukinsa.
"It’s definitely a milestone for the Chinese biotech industry," said Zhao Bing, an analyst at Chinese brokerage Huajing Securities, adding: "More Chinese biotechs are following BeiGene's model, to innovate not only for China but for the global market."
Chinese companies aiming to develop new drugs, often founded by former executives at multinational companies, have proliferated in recent years and raised billions from venture capital investors and through public listings, the FT said.
Walgreens Boots receives $70 billion buyout proposal from KKR
Walgreens Boots Alliance, the $70 billion chemist and healthcare chain, has received a buyout proposal from the private equity group KKR, a deal that would be the biggest private equity transaction on record, the Financial Times reported on Monday.
The approach, just three years after KKR sold the last of its shares in Walgreens from a previous buyout, was outlined in a document shared with the company’s board, according to people briefed on the matter.
KKR would need to collaborate with other investors to pull off a deal, which would dwarf the record-breaking $45 billion acquisition of energy company TXU in 2007.
One person close to the private equity group said that it was also talking to a number of its own investors to explore their interest in participating in the transaction.
Another person said that Walgreens' senior management would also contribute to the deal. Chief executive Stefano Pessina, the pharmacy tycoon who assembled Walgreens Boots Alliance through a string of mergers, owns about 16% of the company.
Those briefed on the discussions cautioned that no final decision had been taken and that either side could still walk away.
Obesity-linked hospital admissions pass one million
The number of hospital admissions for conditions linked to obesity has topped a million in a year for the first time, NHS figures show, reported The Times, The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Mail on Monday.
In 2018-19, almost 1.1 million patients in England were admitted to hospital as a direct result of their obesity or with a condition caused or exacerbated by being very overweight, the Times said.
The NHS Digital data shows that in 12,000 cases obesity was noted as the primary reason for a hospital admission, including cases in which people were struggling to breathe or had too much carbon dioxide in the blood.
The rest were accounted for by conditions such as type 2 diabetes and sleep apnoea, in which obesity was classed as a contributory factor.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, told The Sunday Telegraph: "This startling rise is just the tip of a very large iceberg that, as a society, we continue to steam towards. We know that if we continue to pile on the pounds we’re heading for thousands more avoidable deaths every year from cancer, heart disease, diabetes and the many other obesity-linked illnesses."
Sound waves and microbubbles to tackle tumours
Scientists believe they have developed a means of using sound waves to track and manoeuvre tiny parcels of drugs to precise locations inside the body, The Times reported on Wednesday.
The technique could be used to ferry powerfully toxic cancer treatments to tumour sites, avoiding damage to surrounding tissues and dramatically reducing the amount of the drug to which the patient is exposed, it cited the researchers as saying.
It might also be used in gene therapies, where genetic material must reach and infiltrate a small target group of cells. At present once a drug is injected doctors typically have little control.