The British Medical Association and seven other healthcare organisations have launched a scathing attack on plans to share NHS patient records across government departments and third party businesses.
They are the latest organisations to express their anger in a growing furore over proposals in the controversial Coroners and Justice bill, in which one provision calls for changes to the Data Protection Act to allow extensive sharing of patient records. They said sharing data could undermine patients' trust.
Last month, the British Computer Society warned the bill could “damage – possibly wreck" efforts to persuade the public that large databases of their information are safe. It highlighted the risks to the £12.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT, which is creating digital healthcare records of everyone in the country.
The organisations - including the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of General Practitioners - yesterday wrote to Jack Straw, justice secretary, expressing “grave concerns” that medical records could be shared with third parties.
Clause 152 of the bill, which proposes strong data sharing powers, “will undermine the presumption of confidentiality, corrode trust in the doctor-patient relationship and could have a disastrous impact on both the health of individuals and the public”, they wrote.
“We are seeking your assurances that confidential person-identifiable health information will be exempt from this legislation and this will be included as part of the amendments to the Bill,” they added in the letter. They were “extremely concerned” that the bill, “rather than protecting confidentiality, permits an unjustifiable level of sharing of confidential person-identifiable health data”.
If trust were eroded, they wrote, then patients may decide to withhold information from their doctors during consultation.
The National Information Governance Board, which promotes data sharing standards and best practice in the NHS, agreed that patient records must be excluded from the bill.
It said the proposals “may make patients and service users unwilling to divulge relevant but sensitive personal information to the professionals caring for them”, and would also reduce the accuracy of research, which relied on the records.
In September, the NHS launched a public consultation on data sharing proposals.