Jeremy Hunt announces controversial push towards NHS database

The government’s move to implement a database of patient records containing the nation’s medical details is set to receive GBP 1 billion in funding, reports the Guardian. Campaigners have raised serious concerns with privacy, yet Jeremy Hunt has argued that sharing information will cut down on paper work and make life easier for clinicians.

New IT systems will be introduced which will enable health workers to share patient’s electronic records in order to provide “personal and effective treatment with full knowledge of their care history”. Some NHS hospitals are already using this technology, such as the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham where patients can use an online portal to update their own records. Hospitals can bid for funding from a GBP 500 million pot with details of how they would expect to implement the scheme.

Hunt said: “The public are rightly sceptical about NHS IT after the failures of the past. But we can’t let past failures hold patients back from seeing the benefits of the technology revolution that is transforming services all around us. It is simply maddening to hear stories of elderly dementia patients turning up at A&E with no one able to access their medical history. Technology is key to helping our A&E staff meet the massive demand they face as the population increases and ages. This is something on which the government must and will succeed.”

Some patients however find it unsettling that their medical records will be so easily accessible. According to Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, a similar scheme at a local charity came unstuck when “low-income mothers refused to talk to GPs about post-natal depression because they were worried that it would get back to social services. Government is not thinking it through.”

Campaigners have also claimed that despite assurances from the government, patients who have chosen to opt out of the scheme were also being included. Terri Dowty of MedConfidential, said that Hunt had previously stated that patients who opted out of sharing data under the old system would be exempt, yet the NHS has now overturned this decision.

Dowty said: “We have real concerns that the government is not listening. These plans will have a chilling effect on the relationship between doctors and patients. Will women suffering from domestic abuse want to tell their GP if their husbands could beat the password to their patient record out of them? Will the teenager seeking contraception want that information written down?”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “It is obviously of critical importance that health professionals can maintain accurate records of patient care, so patients get the right treatment. The NHS Constitution makes clear that patients have the right to request that confidential information – in whatever form it is kept – is not used beyond their own care Any electronic patient records system adopted by hospitals must be secure and comply with NHS England’s requirement for modern, safe standards of record-keeping.”

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