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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Patients oppose medical notes law change
Medical notes
MPs vote on the changes on Thursday
Patients are strongly opposed to government moves to give civil servants and ministers powers to access their medical records.

A survey of 1,000 people has found 95% are opposed to giving civil servants such powers and just 31% believe medical researchers should be able to see their notes.

MPs are expected to approve proposals from the Department of Health later this week to allow medical records to be passed on for research purposes.

The government is very wrong on this one and they should have a serious re-think

Simon Williams, Patients Association
However, the Patients Association has warned that the proposals go too far and do not respect people's privacy.

Under the proposed changes to the Health and Social Care Act, officials would be able to order doctors to pass medical records to the Department of Health.

Legal changes

The new power - Section 60 - is expected to be passed by Parliament on Thursday.

Medical notes could be passed on for research purposes or to help contain epidemics such as e-coli, or other risks to public health.

However, the survey carried out by the Patients Association, found just 4% supported the idea of civil servants being allowed to access their notes.

Similarly, two out of three opposed allowing those notes being passed onto medical researchers.

Simon Williams, director of policy at the Patients Association, urged MPs to take the findings on board.

"Patients have spoken out loud and clear. What is private to them and their health professional must stay that way and only they should have the right to share it with others.

"We all have to be confident that if we discuss matters of great personal detail with a health professional - of a sexual nature, of abuse, about having an abortion, or experience mental ill health, for example - that this remains private and that no-one else can access those details without permission."

He added: "The government is very wrong on this one and they should have a serious re-think. Politicians from all parties must recognise this as bad law and throw it out."

Doctors' representatives

Dr Christine Tomkins, professional services director at the Medical Defence Union, which insures doctors, said existing safeguards were insufficient and the scope of the proposed regulations too wide.

She said: "We are concerned that, if the regulation is approved, the Secretary of State for Health alone will be in a position to determine which information should be disclosed for purposes such as research, without the need to rely upon expert advice which would provide a safeguard to protect patients' right to confidentiality.

"We believe that there should be additional and more robust safeguards to protect patient confidentiality."

See also:

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