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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Possible legal challenge over privacy of electronic health records

Dr Paul Thornton has written a paper entitled "Why might National NHS Database proposals be unlawful?" in which he makes a strong case that "carry grave & imminent risks for both civil liberties and public health", and that "the legal justifications used to substantiate their proposals are untested in the courts and require independent judicial clarification".

He argues very convincingly that the NHS Care Records Guarantee doesn't provide sufficient safeguards. The acceptance of implied consent to the placing of patient records in a national database, rather than requiring individual and explicit patient opt-in to the sharing of their information is seen as contravening both the Data Protection Act and Human Rights legislation.

The plans outlined by NHS Connecting for Health for a "sealed envelope" to hold sensitive information which the patient feels needs be have restricted, are now beginning to look less secure. The fact that the sealed envelope will not be available for the very first release of the NHS Care Record Service and upload of data to the national database, as previously reported on this blog, is complicating matters!

Dr Thornton makes many good points in his paper but I think his case is weakened by the use of very emotive language in one paragraph suggesting "The abuse of medical information contributes to the transformation of democratic societies into totalitarian regimes. Privacy and consent prevent us drifting into Stalinist psychiatry and the preventive medicine of the Third Reich."

A summary and comment on the paper is available from E-Health Insider and further information on confidentiality and security issues relating to electronic health records and the wider context are available from Ross Anderson's page

I would hope that the arguments in the paper will apply to all interactions between patients and health professionals not just the GP record. I understand the paper is to be considered by the BMAÂ’s General Practitioner Committee and I would like to see the issues raised discussed much more widely by all professional bodies and royal colleges for health care staff and by patient groups. I would also be interested in some sort of comment or ruling by the Information commissioner. I do not know if a judicial review is appropriate (I don't know enough about the criteria and process involved), but I do feel that wider public debate of these issues is needed, and needs to be integrated with consideration of current government ID card proposals.

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  • Posted on behalf of Jean Roberts:

    The BCS HI Forum did make comments about ther NHS Care Records Guarantee and its 'robustness'.After the PHCSG mtg at Heythrop where two of the Clinical leads (Pringle and Braunold) sought rapid comment on a version previous to the one modified by another part of the DH I have never seen a new version. What is the date of the most recent one? Will compare and add further observations.

    By Rod, at 4:20 PM  

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