The relationship between a patient and a doctor is based on trust. The patient must feel that any personal information disclosed to a doctor in a surgery or hospital will remain confidential.
This is now being undermined by the fiasco of the Conservative-led Government's plans to create a super database of NHS patient data in a project called Care.data. The Government plans to extract GP patient data and combine it with NHS hospital patient data in a giant new database.
The Government’s plans started to go wrong when the NHS failed to tell 50 million people what it intended to do with their confidential records. The main source of information was a leaflet to be delivered to each household. But the leaflet was the type of "junk mail" that most people ignore and that many households opt out of receiving.
Predictably, two thirds of people said they had not seen the leaflet and that they didn't know about the plans for their confidential records or their right to opt-out of the scheme. Many GPs became alarmed at the plans to extract data from patient records without the knowledge and consent of their patients.
The furore led to the Government announcing a six-month pause in their plans to extract the patient data from GP records. However, we have also now learned that an NHS body has already sold 188 million NHS hospital patient records to insurance actuaries for commercial purposes.
The hospital records were used to re-calculate charges for insurance cover for long-term illness. It also seems that the same NHS patient data was uploaded to servers outside the UK and may be being sold and used commercially in the United States.
Health Ministers are now scrambling to repair the damage they have done to the trust of NHS patients but I fear that their action is too little, too late. I call on Ministers to drop this unacceptable use of confidential patient data. They should not consider these plans again until they have built in safeguards to ensure patient data can never again be sold or used for commercial purposes.