Health insurers under attack over spying

Key representatives of health insurers have been fiercely attacked for recommending that private investigators use secretly taped telephone calls and confidential medical records to spy on people who claim on permanent health insurance policies because they are unable to work.

June McKerrow, a director at the Mental Health Foundation, said: "The whole thing is horrific and it shows the degree of prejudice and ignorance that there is. Insurers' practice is by anyone's standards unacceptable."

Permanent Health Insurance Forum, a trade body representing most of the big names in the industry, actively recommends the use of private investigators by members, according to documents obtained by The Independent.

The forum includes industry leaders such as Black Horse Life, Allied Dunbar, Norwich Union, Friends Provident, Lincoln, Royal & Sun Alliance and Permanent Insurance, who together sell 79,000 policies a year. While no company is forced to follow the practice, some insurers claim that private investigators are necessary to limit false claims, which might otherwise inflate premiums to unaffordable levels.

Mental health groups expressed outrage that insurers recommended using private eyes to investigate claims for certain disabilities which "predispose themselves to private investigation," such as stress, mental illness, back problems, ME and RSI.