Patient confidentiality ‘to be breached by police’: NHS database to be made available to investigators, claims former shadow Home Secretary David Davis

 

A central NHS database of the patient’s medical records will be available to police without a warrant in breach of the idea of doctor-patient confidentiality, according to the former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis MP.

Mr Davis claimed that the database, which will go live in May, had a series of “backdoors” that would enable police and government officials to look at medical information.

The records will include details about smoking and drinking habits, mental health issues and drugs that have been prescribed.

Supporters of the system say it lead to improved care and help researchers make medical breakthroughs.

However Mr Davis told The Guardian: “The idea that police will be able to request information from a central database without a warrant totally undermines a long-held belief in the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship.”

He added that he had “no problems with the data being used for licensed medical research, but when we have police accessing from a database that people have opted out from, and companies being able to buy this data, I think we need to have a debate about whether my property, which are my patient records, can be sold and used.”

The information in the database will be stripped of some methods of identification, but Mr Davis said it was possible to work out who people were from their records.

“I have had my nose broken five times. Once you know that, I am probably in a group of 100 people in England. Then you figure out when I had my diptheria jab, usually done at birth, and bang you got me. Let me be clear: people can be identified from this data,” he said.

Phil Booth of medical privacy campaign group medConfidential, said: “This is precisely the danger when you create a giant database of highly sensitive information about people – all sorts of other people want to go rifling through it, including the government.

“There's always another good reason to go digging, but no one thinks of the catastrophic breach of trust this represents.”

“The lack of independent oversight and transparency is what's most worrying. People trust their GP, but who's heard of the Health and Social Care Information Centre or the four people who sign off on access to all our medical records?”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “There are strong legal safeguards in place to protect patients' confidentiality. If people do not want their data to be shared, they can speak to their GP and information will not leave the surgery.

“Any release of identifiable data without consent would only be in a very limited number of exceptional circumstances, where there is a clear basis in existing law – such as for the police to investigate a serious crime.”

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