The "secure" NHS database, open for thousands to read

November 17, 2008 3:13 PM

Given the Government's appalling record of data loss, leaks and IT incompetence, it is understandable that large numbers of people are suspicious of the NHS database. The latest news on the project is hardly reassuring, either. It turns out we won't have to rely on incompetence or human error to open the database to fraudsters, thieves and nosey parkers; the Government are planning to allow thousands of researchers access to our private medical records over and above the hundreds of thousands of existing NHS staff.


Not only does it open the door to even more scope for fraud - after all, the database will be a honeypot for anyone wanting to commit identity theft -  but it constitutes a serious breach of privacy and a threat to the public's confidence in patient confidentiality even if the system is only used properly.


Can you imagine going to the doctor (should you be able to get an appointment) with an embarassing condition, or an illness you wanted for whatever reason to keep private and secret even from your family, only to get a letter out of the blue from a total stranger who is acquainted with your medical records and wants you to take part in a trial? If you had a disease or accident earlier in your life and don't want your current partner or your kids to find out, or don't want the memories raked up again, this could be devastating.


There are huge problems getting people who are genuinely ill, particularly from sexually transmitted infections and conditions like testicular cancer, to go to doctors already. If they are then allowed to share that information without your permission, that is likely to put people off even more.


This is a lose-lose for patients and taxpayers. The scheme is already way over budget and behind time, with questions being asked about whether it will ever work, and even if it is delivered people will be faced with the prospect of fraud or prying researchers reading your files without your permission. How much would you pay for the privilege of having someone read your medical records behind your back? The current answer is £12.4 billion - and rising.

Given the Government's appalling record of data loss, leaks and IT incompetence, it is understandable that large numbers of people are suspicious of the NHS database. The latest news on the project is hardly reassuring, either. It turns out we won't have to rely on incompetence or human error to open the database to fraudsters, thieves and nosey parkers; the Government are planning to allow thousands of researchers access to our private medical records over and above the hundreds of thousands of existing NHS staff.


Not only does it open the door to even more scope for fraud - after all, the database will be a honeypot for anyone wanting to commit identity theft -  but it constitutes a serious breach of privacy and a threat to the public's confidence in patient confidentiality even if the system is only used properly.


Can you imagine going to the doctor (should you be able to get an appointment) with an embarassing condition, or an illness you wanted for whatever reason to keep private and secret even from your family, only to get a letter out of the blue from a total stranger who is acquainted with your medical records and wants you to take part in a trial? If you had a disease or accident earlier in your life and don't want your current partner or your kids to find out, or don't want the memories raked up again, this could be devastating.


There are huge problems getting people who are genuinely ill, particularly from sexually transmitted infections and conditions like testicular cancer, to go to doctors already. If they are then allowed to share that information without your permission, that is likely to put people off even more.


This is a lose-lose for patients and taxpayers. The scheme is already way over budget and behind time, with questions being asked about whether it will ever work, and even if it is delivered people will be faced with the prospect of fraud or prying researchers reading your files without your permission. How much would you pay for the privilege of having someone read your medical records behind your back? The current answer is £12.4 billion - and rising.

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