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Doctors warn on patient data

Who gets to read your medical file?

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Doctors' group the British Medical Association is warning the coalition government that it risks putting ease of access ahead of patient confidentiality as it reforms NHS IT systems.

The BMA warned that the Health Bill provides various groups and bodies with access to your personal health file. The Secretary of State for Health, the Commissioning Board - a new quango which is to replace the oversight role of Primary Care Trusts and NHS Information Centre - which provides data to "frontline decision makers", all get to read your medical notes.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the BMA, said: “The government has decided to place its desire for access to information over the need to respect patient confidentiality.

“There is very little reference to rules on patient confidentiality that would ensure patients are asked before their information is shared or guarantee that the patient’s identity will not be revealed.

"Fears that their data may be shared with others may result in patients withholding important information; this may not only affect their own health but has implications for the wider health service."

Nathanson said the failure to put safeguards in place removed controls for both doctors and patients and conflicted with government promises to give patients greater control of their own data.

The BMA said it would lobby to get the law changed.

A DH spokesperson sent us this:"Our modernisation plans will make it easier for patients to see where unacceptable NHS services are being provided. Shining a light on poor performance will drive up the quality of care overall.

"However, there is no question of the Health and Social Care Bill undermining the confidentiality of patients and their clinicians. The Bill does not change any of the existing legal safeguards, which are set out in the Data Protection Act and the common law of confidence.

"We are happy to work with the BMA to understand their concerns."

The ICO had no comment at the time of writing.

ICO spokesperson sent us this: “We welcome the publication of the Health and Social Care Bill and will work with the British Medical Association (BMA), the Department of Health (DH) and our other key stakeholders to ensure the provisions of the Bill recognise the important balance that must be achieved between improved transparency in healthcare delivery and increased patient control over their personal details.”®

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