Unfortunately regulations are changing in the UK which will affect the confidentiality of your medical records. The default has always been that records stay firmly within your GP’s control, but new legislation will soon mean that your health details will be directly extracted from your GP’s records and held on a central database, for access by private companies, the police and government agencies for whatever purpose they deem important. This new system has been implemented as opt-out rather than opt-in, so you will have to take action to prevent your confidential records from being plundered in this way.

On the 1st of April, 2013, the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 came into force. A new body called ‘The Health and Social Care Information Centre’ (HSCIC) was formed, which is effectively a renamed version of the NHS Information Centre, a statistical data warehouse. The HSCIC can require any health and social care bodies, and any of their sub-contractors, to provide it ‘with any information which the Centre considers it necessary or expedient for the Centre to have’.

A tool has been created for extracting your data directly from records held at your GP’s surgery and transferring it to the central HSCIC systems (the General Practice Extraction Service). Your personal diagnoses and treatments given will be collected, along with your NHS number, date of birth, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and any other personal data held at your surgery.

Universities and hospitals will be able to access your data, but more worryingly private companies and the police will also have access. The government will make a charge for providing this access to private companies, thereby extracting a nice profit from your confidential records.

The NHS has repeatedly insisted that the information will be ‘anonymised’ before release. But according to the small print, they can only ‘…ensure that, as far as it is reasonably practicable to do so, information published does not identify individuals.’ In other words, they can’t guarantee that you won’t be identified.

If you are concerned by this breach of privacy, the best you can do currently is to submit an opt out form to your GP’s surgery. Details of how to obtain one of these forms is available here. Unfortunately the people at medconfidential have noticed that even if you have objected to having your records taken, the HSCIC will currently still be able to take clinical data, but without any identifiers attached, i.e. they will continue to extract information from the medical records of people who had opted out anyway. This seems to be a gross violation of what is meant by opt out.

It goes without saying that there is no way that the government can guarantee that the database won’t get lost or stolen like previous databases have been. Apparently this one is being designed with a set of ‘backdoors’ to give police and government agencies easy access.

In a time when patients are less and less trusting of their doctors and the medical establishment in general, what exactly is the government thinking? It is pretty clear that patients are going to be much less willing to confide in their doctors if they know that anything they say will end up in a database that is being sold to corporations and is freely available to the police.

Thursday, February 13th, 2014


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