Letters: Do you trust the NHS with your data?

These letters were published in the January 15th edition of the Independent

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The Independent Online

Are your readers aware that from 1 April this year their GP records will be automatically uplifted by NHS England to be made available to agencies such as care planners, drug companies, and private health care providers?

This is under the  care.data programme, and while much of the information will be anonymised, significant levels of it will be “pseudonymised”: data such as sex, date of birth and NHS number will be available, thus rendering that person fairly easily identifiable. Patients have a right to opt out of this, but the default position will see their GP records shared around by NHS England. How much do you trust them with your data?

They have belatedly and begrudgingly set up an information campaign to inform the public. Anybody seen it? Thought not.

GPs have been instructed that they face prosecution if they put a blanket block on their computer systems to deny this access and, bizarrely, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office, also face legal action should a patient complain that they were unaware of the scheme.

While much of this data is extremely valuable in healthcare planning – and the excellent work of Professor Hippisley-Cox and her team in Nottingham illustrates this – I fail to see why the data needs such a high level of identifiability. I have already had a few patients expressing concern and fully sympathise with them.

I would urge patients to make themselves aware of this unauthorised use of their personal data, and GPs to continue to ensure their patients’ confidentiality is suitably protected.

Dr Kevan Tucker, Barrowford, Lancashire


The ‘stony-hearted beast’ is right

Fergus Wilson, referred to by you as a “stony-hearted beast” (11 January), is doing the right thing by terminating the tenancies of tenants in arrears.

As the proportion of his tenants in arrears has increased from 8 per cent to 50 per cent since the Department for Work and Pensions opted to pay benefits to tenants rather than direct to landlords, why should Mr Wilson take the pain from this change? He is completely right not to accept the council’s offer to pay extra to cover the arrears. Whether one agrees or not with the DWP change to Universal Credit, council managers have no right to allocate funds, presumably without consulting ratepayers, to cover a problem arising from a change in government policy. 

Also, it’s a pity your reporter did not challenge the statement from the DWP spokesman that “landlords always complain about direct payments”. Really? I’d be a lot happier if all my debtors were backed by an organisation with the resources of the Government.

Michael Garrett, Gringley-on-the-Hill, Nottinghamshire

Howard Pilott (letter, 13 January) is incorrect in blaming landlord Fergus Wilson and “the unacceptable face of capitalism” for the plight of the 200 tenants at risk of losing their homes. As ever the fault lies with the Government (or possibly even the EU).

Until recently housing benefit could be paid directly to the landlord, thus ensuring security for both parties. Now, unless there are exceptional circumstances, it must be given to the tenants. Inevitably, as many warned, giving large sums of money to people who do not have very much means that sometimes not all of it will reach its intended destination.

If it’s not broken. . . .

Mary Lees, Littlehampton, West Sussex

Fences can save wildlife

It is important to make the distinction between mountain forest fences and those in open wooded savannah when discussing the effectiveness of wildlife fences and protected areas in Kenya (Dr Bill Adams, 11 January).

The place where fences are undoubtedly effective is around mountain forests such as the Aberdares, which is protected by a 400km electrified fence built by Rhino Ark with the support of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service and the local communities. There are approximately 2,000 elephants in the Aberdares. The fence has all but eliminated wildlife crop destruction, provided safer living conditions for local communities and greater security for wildlife, increased farmer land values by up to 300 per cent and improved forest cover, as highlighted in an independent study commissioned by Rhino Ark together with the United Nations Environment Programme and others.

This fence, like the two that Rhino Ark is currently building around Mount Kenya and Mau Eburu, is aligned on the border between dense forests and highly populated settlements. Most of the wildlife corridors around the mountain forests were closed long ago by these densely populated areas. The fences do not interfere with wildlife corridors but prevent elephants from marauding in the surrounding farmlands to access crops.

When used properly electrified fences are a vital tool in protecting Kenya’s natural ecosystem and wildlife, including elephants, as well as reducing human-wildlife conflict.

Christian Lambrechts, Executive Director, Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, Nairobi, Blackadder and the futility of war

David Cameron and Boris Johnson both feel they have to come to the rescue of Michael Gove following his pronouncements about Blackadder being used in schools to create a biased view of the First World War. Have any of them actually taught? All excellent teachers will naturally expose their pupils to many different points of view, and by doing this will be giving them a base for unbiased opinion.

By exposing young people to all interpretations you are engaging them to examine all the evidence, search for the truth and make considered judgements.

Blackadder is a parody of what happened and can be likened to the poetry of Sassoon and Owen. The final episode of the programme is very powerful in depicting the futility of the battles, as are the rows and rows of graves in France and Belgium, to which many schools take their pupils to feel the empathy about the losses of the time.

We no longer have a British Empire and should no longer be teaching as if we did. It is about time teachers were allowed to get on with teaching without unfounded criticisms.

Alison Sherratt, President, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, London W14

Only a week into its centenary year, it seems the First World War is “the hottest political issue of the day” (“Who was to blame  for the First World War?” 8 January). Sean O’Grady’s article gives food for thought, and that is what we need, rather than anyone’s propaganda.

The best way to honour the war’s many victims is surely to understand better why and how it happened, with a view to driving future wars off the political agenda.

The last thing we need is left- and right-wing academics, firmly entrenched in their positions, firing destructive salvoes at each other across a barren intellectual no-man’s-land.

Sue Gilmurray, Ely, Cambridgeshire

Prosecuting rape cases

There is no evidence to suggest that the reduction in offices co-located by police and CPS is the reason for the drop in referrals of cases of rape, child abuse and domestic violence (“Closure of joint law offices ‘letting down victims’ ”, 13 January). CPS lawyers still work very closely with police colleagues on these and other serious and complex cases, including face-to-face meetings where these are appropriate.

Dedicated specialist units handling rape and other serious sexual offences have recently been rolled out across all CPS areas in England and Wales, and the specially trained prosecutors within them are able to provide a better service than ever before to the police in terms of expertise and advice.

Peter Lewis, Chief Executive, Crown Prosecution Service, London SE1

President in bike leathers

So Grace Dent (14 January) believes that the crash helmet and biker leathers François Hollande wore when visiting the actress Julie Gayet constitute a “well-established mid-life crisis uniform”?

As a 58-year-old biker I’d like to know what “uniform” Ms Dent suggests I and other male motorcyclists of my generation should wear in order to protect ourselves when dodging motorists?

Oh and crash helmets are compulsory, Grace, regardless of a motorcyclist’s age.

Tom Coleman, Harrow, Middlesex

François Hollande left his partner of more than 30 years, the mother of his children, for Trierweiler. If she had even half a brain you’d think she’d have realised that loyalty is not one of Hollande’s strong points. I have no sympathy for the stupid woman.

Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells, Kent