Fury at plan for access to medical records

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Plans to allow government access to medical records without patients' permission descended into chaos yesterday as a sitting of the committee set up to pass the new legal regulations was suspended.

Plans to allow government access to medical records without patients' permission descended into chaos yesterday as a sitting of the committee set up to pass the new legal regulations was suspended.

The delay came after protests from opposition MPs that they had not been given the correct papers to allow them to scrutinise plans to allow access to confidential details in medical files.

The Tories accused the Government of seeking to undermine the patient-doctor relationship and compromise confidentiality. They warned that people would be reluctant to have HIV tests if they knew that details could be passed to government employees. They will try force a vote in the House of Lords next week to block the new measures.

Liam Fox, the shadow Health Secretary, said: "Today is the death of confidentiality as we know it. Information about ourselves is now effectively owned by the state."

The plans – under which doctors who refuse to hand over patients' files could be fined – were condemned by patients' representatives as "evil".

The measures would allow files to be obtained by researchers, health professionals, or "persons employed or engaged by a government department" to monitor reactions to vaccines and medicines. The Government said the measures were designed to obtain information in the event of an epidemic. There were "no plans for civil servants to obtain people's medical records".

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