Every home in the Westcountry is to be sent a leaflet about major changes to the way personal information is stored by the NHS.
Officials have launched a new public awareness campaign informing people about a data project that will see patient records collected from GP practices across Devon and Cornwall.
The care.data programme will see records held in a central database where they can be used by NHS officials to plan services.
NHS England said that sharing information will help to ensure the quality and safety of services is consistent across the country.
Patients who do not want their information to be shared need to contact their GP practice within a month and data gathering will begin in spring.
Geraint Lewis, chief data officer at NHS England, said: “The NHS has been collecting information like this from hospitals for decades but until now we’ve been missing information about the quality of care provided outside hospital.
“This initiative is about upgrading our information systems to get a more complete picture of the quality of care being delivered across all parts of the NHS and social care.”
Mark Davies, medical director at the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which will store the data, said: “The Health and Social Care Information Centre was set up as the legal ‘safe haven’ for protecting and managing patient information.
“We want everyone to feel confident that their information is kept private and used in non-identifiable form to improve the quality of health and social care for everyone. Equally important is that everyone knows that they have a choice and can raise an objection by simply talking to their GP.”
Leaflets explaining the project will begin landing on doormats today of every home in England and the campaign will run throughout January.
But campaigners have said the move is a “lazy” way to inform the public about the changes.
Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, said: “This scheme is a fundamental change in the way our medical records are processed, so for the NHS to rely on the sort of leaflet drop you’d expect from a pizza shop is not good enough.
“Such a lacklustre scheme to inform the public is arguably illegal under data protection law and goes against the Government’s commitment to give patients control over their medical records. Clearly a huge amount of people will not see a leaflet dropped among the usual junk mail and it is surely right to expect that where our medical records are concerned, we should receive a personal letter at the very least.
“Given GPs are already very busy, people should not have to see their GP to opt out of the system. It should be possible to opt out online or over the phone, and people who opted out of previous NHS IT projects should have their choice carried over for this system.
“Our medical records contain our most personal information and given the real privacy concerns about amassing a huge central database of patient information, the NHS should be showing far more respect than such a lazy effort to inform people about these changes.”