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GPs blow whistle to watchdog on patient record privacy threat

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The UK's data protection watchdog has highlighted concerns it has with a new information-sharing initiative that has begun operating in the health sector in England.

Earlier this week a new Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) was established with the power to require health bodies to hand over "any information" that it deems "necessary or expedient" in order to fulfil its functions. HSCIC is tasked with gathering and publishing data in order to improve the quality of information available across the health sector.

However, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has said that doctors had contacted them to express their concern about whether patients were being kept sufficiently informed as to how their data could be passed on to HSCIC. The ICO said that it has "reservations about the sharing of data between health bodies".

"Several GPs have also recently contacted our office concerned that they are being asked to supply information to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, via third party contractors," Dawn Monaghan, the ICO's strategic liaison manager in the watchdog's public services group, said in a blog. "They have concerns that patients are not being told that their information will be shared in this way and that they will be in breach of the Data Protection Act by sharing their data."

"A data controller has a legal obligation to ensure that it is complying with the Data Protection Act when sharing personal information," she added. "However, from the start of this week the Health and Social Care Information Centre has the power under s259 of the Health and Social Care Act ‘to require and request provision of information’.

"We are now working closely with the Health and Social Care Information Centre and others to determine whether this power relieves a data controller from their obligations under the Data Protection Act."

"Either way, the information must be sought from the data controller and not from a third party data processor, which does not have the right to provide the information without instruction from the controller," Monaghan said.

The Government has previously outlined plans to enable health and care service providers and private sector life scientists to access anonymised medical data relating to individuals who consent to the sharing of their records.

In January, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed his vision for a "paperless" NHS by 2018 where patients would each have a digital medical record that public health providers could access "when necessary" and where individuals' "permission" had been granted. However, privacy campaigners expressed data privacy and security concerns.

Copyright © 2013, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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