In our Alert Memorandum of 19 July 2022 (available here), we outlined the European Commission’s (the “Commission”) proposal for a regulation on the “European Health Data Space” (the “Regulation” or the “EHDS”). The proposal, which was published in May 2022, is the first of nine European sector- and domain-specific data spaces set out by the Commission in 2020 in the context of its “European strategy for data”.

The EU is now reportedly aiming to conclude the EHDS dossier and adopt the Regulation before the end of the EU Parliament’s current term (June 2024). To this end, on 15 March 2024, the EU Council and the EU Parliament announced that they had reached a provisional agreement on the text of the Regulation (the text is available here). And on 24 April 2024, the EU Parliament formally adopted the text of the provisional agreement.


The proposed Regulation is an initiative that attempts to create a “European Health Union” to make it easier to exchange and access health data at EU level. The Regulation builds on other recent EU reforms such as the recently enacted Data Act and the proposed AI Act. It seeks to tackle legacy systemic issues that have hindered lawful access to electronic health data. It promotes the electronic exchange of health data by enhancing individuals’ access to and portability of these data and by enabling innovators and researchers to process these data through reliable and secure mechanisms. It contains rules that govern both primary use (i.e., use of such data in the context of healthcare) and secondary use of health data (e.g. use for non-healthcare purposes such as research, innovation, policy-making, statistics).

Recent Proposals:

On 6 December 2023, the EU Council issued a press release (available here) confirming the agreement on the EU Council’s position and its mandate to start negotiations with the EU Parliament as soon as possible in order to reach a provisional agreement on the proposed Regulation (see the EU Council’s proposed amendments here). Subsequently, on 13 December 2023, the EU Parliament finalised its proposed amendments to the Regulation (see the EU Parliament’s proposed amendments here).

Following the inter-institutional trilogue negotiations between the EU Parliament, the EU Council and the Commission, on 15 March 2024, the EU Council and the EU Parliament issued a press release (available here) confirming the reach of a provisional agreement on the text of the Regulation. They introduced new rules and also modified or clarified some of the rules that were originally proposed (some of which were outlined in our Alert Memorandum of 19 July 2022).

Some of the highlights from the provisional agreement are as follows:

  • Scope of Prohibited Purposes: The new text seeks to expand and clarifies the scope of prohibited purposes for secondary use of health data. For instance, the Regulation now provides that the secondary use of health data to take decisions that will produce economic or social effects should be prohibited – this provides an additional prohibition on top of the original proposal, which intended to prohibit secondary use of health data only where the decisions produced “legal” effects. In addition, the Regulation further includes within the scope of the prohibited purposes: (i) decisions in relation to job offers; (ii) offering less favourable terms in the provision of goods or services; (iii) decisions regarding conditions of taking loans or any other discriminative decisions taken on the basis of health data.
  • Categories of Personal Data subject to Secondary Use: As above, electronic health data can be subject to “secondary use” and health data holder should make certain categories of electronic data available for secondary use. The EU Parliament and the EU Council confirmed in their provisional agreement that Member States will be able to establish trusted data holders that can securely process requests for access to health data in order to reduce the administrative burden. The text includes a number of amendments to such categories of electronic data that can be made available for secondary use.
  • IP and Trade Secrets:
    • The EU Commission’s first draft of the Regulation did not include specific measures to preserve the confidentiality of IP rights and trade secrets; however, the Regulation now includes a set of new provisions on the protection of IP rights and trade secrets (Recital 40c, Article 33a). Accordingly, where health data is protected by IP rights or trade secrets, the Regulation should not be used to reduce or circumvent such protection. The provisions impose, among other things, an obligation on the “health data access bodies”[1] to take all specific measures, including legal, organisational and technical measures that are necessary to preserve the confidentiality of  data entailing IP rights or trade secrets. Such legal, organisational and technical measures could include common electronic health data access contractual arrangements, specific obligations in relation to the rights that fall within the data permit, pre-processing the data to generate derived data that protects a trade secret (but still has utility for the user or configuration of the secure processing environment so that such data is not accessible by the health data). If a health data user requests access to such data but should the granting of access of electronic health data for secondary purpose incur a serious risk that cannot be addressed in a satisfactory manner of infringing the intellectual property rights, trade secrets and/or the regulatory data protection right, the health data access body must refuse access and explain the reason to the user (see Article 33a(1)(d) of the Regulation).
    • In addition, the Regulation now includes additional obligations to health data holders[2] with respect to electronic health data that entail IP rights or trade secrets. For example, the original proposals required a health data holder to make the electronic data they hold available upon request to the health data access body in certain circumstances. The Regulation now requires health data holders to inform the health data access body of such IP rights or trade secrets, as well as to indicate which parts of the datasets are concerned and justify why the data needs the specific protection which the data benefits from, when communicating to the health data access body the dataset descriptions for the datasets they hold, or at the latest following a request from the health data access body.
    • The Regulation also requires health data access bodies to apply certain criteria when deciding to grant or refuse access to health data. These criteria include whether the requests demonstrate sufficient safeguards to protect the health data holder and the natural persons concerned; whether there is a lawful basis the GDPR in case of access to pseudonymised health data; whether the requested data is necessary for the purpose described in the request application. In addition, the health data body must also take into account certain risks when deciding on the same. The health data access body must permit the data access where it concludes that the above-mentioned criteria are met and the risks that it must take into account are sufficiently mitigated.
  • Transparency: The Regulation now intends to impose an additional obligation on the data holders to provide certain information to natural persons about their processing of personal health data. This information obligation is intended to supplement the transparency obligations that the data holders may have under the GDPR.
  • Right to access to personal electronic health data:The Regulation now addsthe individuals’ right to download their electronic health data and specifies that the right to access to personal electronic health data in the context of the EHDS complements the right to data portability under Article 20 of the GDPR (see Recital 11). In this context it should be noted that the GDPR right to data portability is limited only to data processed based on consent or contract – which excludes data processed under other legal bases, such as when the processing is based on law – and only concerns data provided by the data subject to a controller, excluding many inferred or indirect data, such as diagnoses, or tests.
  • Right to opt-out and need to obtain consent: New Recital 37c and Article 35f provide patients with a right to opt-out of the processing of all their health data for secondary use, except for purposes of public interest, policy making, statistics and research purposes in the public interest. In addition, individuals shall be provided with sufficient information on their right to opt-out, including on the benefits and drawbacks when exercising this right. In addition, Member States may put in place stricter measures governing access to certain kinds of sensitive data, such as genetic data, for research purposes.
  • Data localisation: Data localisation requirements are imposed in Articles 60a and 60aa. These provisions are intended to requires that personal electronic health data be stored exclusively for the purposes of primary and secondary use of personal electronic health data within the territory of the EU or in a third country, territory or one or more specified sectors within that third country covered by an adequacy decision pursuant to Article 45 of the GDPR. These proposed changes are seemingly intended to address some of the concerns expressed by the European Data Protection Board (the “EDPB”) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (the “EDPS”) in their joint opinion of 12 July 2022. However in certain ways the provisions do seem to go beyond the recommendations of the EDPB / EDPS (for example, with respect to the localisation of data, the EDPB/EDPS opinion actually proposed to require that electronic health data be stored in the EEA, but to allow for transfers under Chapter V of the GDPR, i.e. including, for example, transfers under standard contractual clauses or under the derogations provided for in Article 49 of the GDPR).

Next steps:

The provisional agreement will now have to be endorsed by the EU Council. It has been reported that the aim of the institutions is to conclude the EHDS dossier and adopt the Regulation before the end of the EU Parliament’s term (June 2024).

Once formally adopted and published in the Official Journal of the EU, the EHDS will be directly applicable following a grace-period (currently, two years) after the entry into force of the Regulation (with the exception of certain provisions which will have different application dates).

[1] This is a body that Member States will set up to be responsible for granting access to electronic health data for secondary use).

[2] This means the natural or legal person that has the ability to make available data; however note that negotiations between the EU Parliament, the EU Council and the EU Commission are still ongoing on the definition of “data holders”.