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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Confidential medical records of millions of NHS patients could be passed to private companies under controversial plans being drawn up by ministers.

Private companies could get access to millions of NHS medical records
Article in the Telegraph


The Government is considering giving firms access to a massive computer database which will contain the records of almost every man, woman and child in England.

The information is a goldmine for private companies, who could use it for medical research or for helping them to sell products to the NHS.

But privacy campaigners say they are "horrified" by the proposals which could see patients' postcodes, medical conditions and treatments - and in some circumstances, their names - passed on to third parties without their consent.

The database, part of a long-delayed scheme to give NHS staff access to computerised medical records, will hold details of almost all visits by patients to hospitals and GPs.

The plans have been dogged by controversy. Last week. ministers gave in to pressure from privacy campaigners and agreed that medics will have to gain the consent of patients before opening their computer records. Yet patients will have almost no control over the same information being passed on to companies and other bodies outside the NHS.

The Department of Health says most records passed onto third parties would be made anonymous, but admits that identifiable data - which could include patient names - could also be handed on if it was deemed to be more useful."

"Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge University, said: "We have had a lot of debate about patients being able to opt out of the national scheme for patient records, but meanwhile the Government have pulled a fast one. There are no limits set on the way this data can be used; this database will hoover up all the personal medical data on every person, and it can be used for whatever the Secretary of State says it can be used for."

Prof Anderson suggested the creation of one large database would also make it easier for different parts of the state to use confidential health data for other purposes, with social workers, courts and police able to access medical files more easily.

Helen Wilkinson, a former NHS manager who founded The Big Opt-Out, a campaign against the national care records scheme, said she was "horrified" by the latest development and planning a major publicity launch to warn people of the threat it posed to their privacy and security.

She said: "We are talking about a hugely valuable commodity which will be worth a fortune to the pharmaceutical industry, and to all the companies which make their profits from the health service."

Joyce Robins, from patient pressure group Patient Concern, said patients would be left "entirely at the mercy" of those operating the scheme."

Cui bono? - I wonder which ministers have reason to favour the interests of the pharmaceutical companies (GSK, anyone?...(o:) over the wishes and privacy of the vast majority of the electorate?