UK Health Minister makes U-turn on medical record database

The following from Dr Gordon Atherly.

Minister admits U-turn on NHS database amid privacy fears

John Carvel, social affairs editor
Tuesday December 19, 2006
The Guardian

The government gave a categorical assurance yesterday that NHS patients would have an absolute right of veto on any part of their medical records being uploaded to a national database.

The health minister Lord Warner confirmed a report in the Guardian on Saturday that the government was abandoning an attempt to oblige GPs to provide a medical summary on every patient for a centralised electronic record.

He acknowledged changing the policy over the past few weeks in response to the concerns of patients who feared unauthorised disclosure of their medical histories. He said the fears were groundless but offered assurances that were firmer than in the briefing to the Guardian last week.

He said: “For all of them, if they don’t want to have their information uploaded, they can stop it before it is uploaded.”

However, he said that the campaigners did not have the right to stop the scheme completely: “People who want to say a curse on the devil and all his works can stop their information being uploaded, but they can’t stop other people having the information about them uploaded.”

Lord Warner said a veto was offered to people in Scotland before the NHS began uploading a similar “emergency care record”, but only 250 of 6 million patients asked for their details to be withheld.

“We believe that, despite the noise it has generated, the electronic record will be of huge benefit to patient care.” It could save the lives of vulnerable elderly people if paramedics gained instant access to information about their medication and their GP’s most recent diagnosis.

The majority of people, who do not object to having their information shared or uploaded, should not lose out due to the protests of a minority, he said.

Lord Warner said patients would not have to give reasons why they did not want their medical details uploaded but if they wanted them deleted altogether from the computer in the GP’s surgery, they would have to give reasons of “mental distress”.

James Johnson, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: “The recommendations in this report provide a good first step … It is crucial to the success of the NHS care record that the anxieties of both patients and professionals are properly dealt with.”

Helen Wilkinson, national coordinator of The Big Opt Out, a campaign against the database, said: “People should opt out now, if only to wait and see if the government delivers the ‘protections’ that it is promising and whether they are credible.”

The Lib Dem health spokesman, John Pugh, said: “Patients and doctors need to know how access to this information is to be controlled in practice, and how unnecessary intrusion into a very private sphere is to be identified and prevented.”

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