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NHS patient data storm: Govt lords SLAP DOWN privacy protections

Labour reckons GP records' slurp is a 'dead duck' anyway

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Fast-food floggers and tobacco giants accessing medical data

Lord Howe argued that existing powers could be used to create an independent committee to advise on data-sharing. He told the House of Lords last night:

I understand the concerns raised by some noble Lords that government amendment 45 would allow commercial companies – including fast food and tobacco companies, for example – to access information under this provision for commercial gain. I hope I can offer reassurance that the scope of this provision will enable us to tap the potential of the wealth of data available for research, while explicitly preventing the use of such data for purposes that will not promote health.

However, let me be clear ... that the permitted purposes for general dissemination of anonymised and certain other information, as defined by government amendment 45, would not allow information to be shared for purposes that have no provision of healthcare or adult social care or health promotion aspect, such as to enable insurance companies to raise their premiums.

Lord Howe said that, within the next few months, the Tory-led coalition government will be discussing "regulations that would not only strengthen the rules around the use of pseudonymised data but create new safeguards around information sharing for commissioners, requiring pseudonymised data to be processed in 'accredited safe havens' and clarifying the rules on when information about people in care, particularly the most vulnerable, must be shared."

Among other things, peers in favour of stronger legal controls over the handling of patient information under the Care Bill had wanted clarity on what data the Health and Social Care Information Centre will release through the care.data programme.

Privacy campaigner Phil Booth of MedConfidential expressed utter disappointment with the government for failing to respond adequately to legitimate concerns that had been raised about the entire care.data scheme:

Rather than legislating to restore public confidence, the government has opened a loophole a mile wide through which to keep selling NHS patient data. It doesn’t matter how ‘sympathetic’ ministers are to public concerns.

The fact is the government has ducked the only sort of independent scrutiny that might help convince both patients and professionals to trust or have confidence in what it and its arms-length bodies want to do with the medical records of every man, woman and child in the country.

Late last month, NHS England admitted it needed to slow down its grand GP records grab after it had already paused the programme for six months in February for failing to properly explain to patients what it planned to do with their medical information.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party now appears to be responding negatively to the care.data scheme – perhaps after recognising that it's not a terribly popular plan among voters.

"My own view is that this is a dead duck," said Labour peer Lord Hunt on Wednesday.

"The government will not be in a position to enable the scheme to go ahead any time before the election because so much public confidence has been lost," he bluntly noted. ®

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