Following concerns over the privacy of patients in England, plans to introduce an NHS data-sharing system, which would provide private organisations with access to information, have been delayed by NHS England for six months from its planned start date of April 2014.

Its supporters claim that the system will enable assessment of the performance of the NHS, identify trends in outbreaks of illnesses and enable more sophisticated examination of new drugs on the market.

However, widespread concerns about who would be able to access the data, how patients’ privacy would be protected and whether or not the public are aware of the scheme, has meant NHS England has been left with no choice but to delay the rollout, giving the public more time to opt out.

Ryan Dunleavy a data protection expert at Thompsons Solicitors said: “The fact that NHS England has listened to concerns is a positive step.

“It is essential that robust safeguards are in place to protect patients’ data before a scheme like this can be seriously considered for roll out.

“There may be a range of benefits to patient care but it is imperative that the public are fully aware of the new database and how it will be used, before any implementation.”

Richard Arthur, head of the Trade Union Law Group at Thompsons, added: “It is somewhat ironic that the government has pulled back from this roll out when it steamrollered through another potential gross breach of privacy in the Lobbying Bill, which will allow access to private information relating to millions of trade union members. Is it too cynical to think that this delay may help non-NHS bodies and private sector firms and sweeten the pill for the public whose information is going to be sold, whereas when it comes to trade union members' information it's all fodder for the government backbenchers so who cares?"