Patients have a right to know about any changes to how their medical records can be accessed and deserve clear and transparent information about how they will be effected. The Department for Health has yet to announce how they will make patients aware of the proposed changes and we are yet to see whether they will write to every patient in the country as the last government did about the Summary Care Record.
When asked about concerns about unauthorised access to medical records and the impact on patient’s privacy and confidentiality, the Department for Health has said that call center workers will have to seek permission from individual patient’s before they access the records. However, our research has highlighted that data protection regulations, which in theory should protect patients from having their information accessed unnecessarily, does not stop serious data protection breaches occurring, with instances ranging from sharing patient’s information on Facebook to looking at each other’s medical records.
If trained medical professionals who have a duty of care are falling foul of data breaches, can we really rely on the assurances of the Department for Health that NHS 111 workers, with as little as 2 weeks training, should have access to highly sensitive and private medical records?
The proposal by the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, comes at a time when the Government is creating a database of medical files to enable NHS staff to more easily share patient information. Barely a week seems to go by without a new raft of people being able to access our most intimate medical details yet patients continue to be denied basic information about what is happening or given the choice to opt-out.
The NHS has been accused of not doing enough to ensure confidential patient information is protected, and clearly putting that information into even more people’s hands could be a recipe for disaster. The Department for Health must provide plans for far more stringent safeguards to ensure our medical records are protected before these proposals are even considered being rolled out across the country.