Health officials in England have defended a decision to hand over data on National Health Service cancer patients to a US firm linked to tobacco companies, according to a Press Association story.

Public Health England (PHE) said that it handed over the information after the statistical analysis firm William E Wecker submitted a data request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The health body said that it was legally bound to comply. It added that patient data was anonymised.

The comments were made after the Daily Telegraph revealed that data covering 179,040 lung tumours diagnosed between 2009 and 2013 – every case in England over the four-year period – was handed over to the data firm.

In its data request, the firm said it wanted to evaluate lung cancer trends in Australia, Ireland, the UK and the US.

The Press Association said William E Wecker described on its website its association with a number of tobacco companies, including Philip Morris International. But it is linked also to other bodies such as the American Medical Association.

‘William E Wecker Associates has established a track record of creative and effective applications of statistical and mathematical analysis to questions arising in regulation and litigation, in business and government,’ the company stated on its website. 

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