Page last updated at 02:38 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Data plans 'medical records risk'

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The data-sharing proposals have caused controversy

Doctors have warned that plans to relax data sharing rules could damage patient confidentiality.

A group of eight leading medical groups have urged ministers to re-think the Coroners and Justice Bill, currently working its way through parliament.

The organisations, including the British Medical Association, said they had "grave concerns" it could open up medical records and damage trust.

The government said it would be reviewing the bill.

The legislation includes plans to introduce what are known as information sharing orders that would remove data protection restrictions.

If patients cannot be 100% sure that their records are confidential, they will inevitably the reluctant to share vital information with their doctor
Dr Hamish Meldrum, of the British Medical Association

Ministers have argued they have been designed to improve the delivery of services so that people do not have to give the same information over and over again to different agencies they come into contact with.

One example which has been given is when families who have suffered a bereavement have to deal with several different agencies to sort out things such as funerals, death certificates and coroner requests.

But opposition MPs have described the measures as "draconian" and pledged to oppose them.

And now medical experts have joined the opposition, saying they would "undermine the presumption of confidentiality and corrode trust".

BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said: "The doctor-patient relationship is based on trust.

"If patients cannot be 100% sure that their records are confidential, they will inevitably the reluctant to share vital information with their doctor."

Dr Meldrum was one of eight signatories to a letter sent to Justice Secretary Jack Straw along with the heads of the Royal College of Surgeons, Royal College of Nursing, Medical Defence Union, Medical Protection Society, Royal College of GPs, Faculty of Public Health and Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

Fears

They said fears over confidentiality could lead to people with HIV not telling their GP about their condition, which could then result in prescription drugs interfering with anti-viral treatment.

Professor Steve Field warns patient confidentiality could be at risk

Another potential problem cited was of people with depression not seeking help in case their employer found out.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We want to create services that improve people lives and are simple and easy for them to use.

"One of the main objectives of the information sharing gateway is to assist with the delivery of improved services for the 21st century such as the digital switchover, warm homes and free school meals."

But he added ministers were willing to re-consider the proposals in light of concerns being expressed.

He added: "We are actively considering ways in which it might be improved."



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SEE ALSO
MPs attack 'draconian' data plan
27 Jan 09 |  UK Politics
Patient veto for e-care records
18 Dec 06 |  Health

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