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Amazon: Alexa won’t snoop on NHS patients

PATIENTS are being told to ask Alexa to diagnose their symptoms rather than go to hospital or their GP.

In a tie-up between Amazon and the NHS, the virtual assistant will answer questions such as ‘Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?’ and ‘Alexa, what are the symptoms of chickenpox?’

The partnership is part of health secretary Matt Hancock’s Long Term Plan for the NHS.

He says it could ease pressure on GPs and hospitals.

And he claims it will give patients — especially the elderly and disabled — greater control over their healthcare.

Alexa will source answers from the NHS website. But the Royal College of GPs said care must be taken to ensure the advice given is safe. And Big Brother Watch warned of a ‘data protection disaster waiting to happen’.

The Patients Association’s Rachel Power said the tie-up was exciting.

But she added: ‘Adequate safeguards must be in place to ensure the utmost protection of patients’ personal data. This is particularly the case with Amazon, following reports that Alexa retains recordings and shares information with other companies.’

The project is being spearheaded by NHSX, a new unit set up to make health services available via digital technology.

Mr Hancock said: ‘We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare.

‘Technology like this is a great example of how people can access reliable, world-leading NHS advice from the comfort of their home, reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs and pharmacists.’

Amazon denied privacy would be infringed. It said: ‘The NHS health information is a response to customer health questions, whereby Alexa takes information from the NHS website. The service is not gathering data for commercial purposes.’