Would you trust the Police to have access to your medical records?

shutterstock_42647761The patient-doctor relationship is the bedrock of the NHS, where patient confidentiality and trust in that system must be constantly maintained. Failure to maintain this trust could have devastating consequences for both individual patients and the NHS as a whole, which is why we are concerned that Greater Manchester Police has said that it wants direct and regular access to medical records.

In an interview with The Guardian, Sir Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, has said that “we could do a better job if we have greater access to information, which it is currently hard for us to get.”

Public bodies do not have a great track record on data protection and as sharing private information around more public bodies only increases, so does the risk that it will be leaked, lost or otherwise revealed. Big Brother Watch has previously drawn attention to the scale of data breaches in reports such as Local Authority Data Loss and NHS Breaches of Data Protection Law. Specifically on the subject of medical records we have given evidence to the Health Select Committee (pdf) on the flaws in the proposed care.data scheme.

Patients must be able to trust what they say will remain private and by opening the possibility of this information being shared without consent with police forces, patients may be more reluctant to open up to their doctors. Indeed, the starkest example is victims of domestic abuse who it is well documented, are largely hesitant to come forward. If the police were given details of doctors’ suspicions of domestic abuse as a matter of course, victims may stop visiting their GPs altogether. This would leave some of the most vulnerable people in British society at even greater risk, not less.

Fahy goes on to claim that around 70% of police work is with vulnerable people, stating that police “need to have easier access to information” to help them deal with these problems. He adds that currently even if the police are able to get information, it takes too long: “We need to get it in 20 minutes at 3am.”

Reacting to the story, Dr Tony Calland, of the British Medical Association, has stated that: “The essential principle that runs throughout the recording of medical information is that of confidentiality and trust. This principle has stood the test of time for millennia and still holds good today. ​At present the checks and balances in the current legal position are satisfactory and whilst the current law may cause some difficulty for the police the case has not been made to recommend a substantial change in the law.”​

Whilst the government and public sector more generally discuss new ways to share our personal information, they must do so with the knowledge that this cannot go ahead without there being stricter safeguards put in place. We take this opportunity to reiterate what we have long called for; the need for custodial sentences to punish those found guilty of misusing personal data, rather than judges having to rely on he menial fines that are currently supposed to act as a deterrent.

If the public sector steams ahead with its data sharing agenda without this measure being introduced, it is only a matter of time before serious data breaches start rolling into the news with the perpetrators receiving little more than a slap on the wrist. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

Posted by on Aug 12, 2014 in Home | 9 Comments


  1. Anon
    12th August 2014

    Without the fundamentals of trust and confidentiality many patients would not want to share vitally important data about their health and medical conditions in case these data are shared with others without patient knowledge or consent. Do the police want to be responsible for this? The police may argue that they need access to data quickly but if that is to happen then will they take responsibility for the harm that such action could do other patients?

    Just because data exists does not mean that others have the right to access it. As with the care.data programme, it is another nail in the coffin for trust and confidentiality in doctor/patient relationships. More and more people will lie to their doctors and how can that be good for the health of the population as a whole?

    The biggest concern here is that the police actually believe that they should have access to private and confidential medical records. The government with its care.data programme is setting the scene for others like the police to try to jump on the bandwagon.

  2. Anonymous
    12th August 2014

    The police won’t be the only parties that can access your medical files if your details become centralized in the government database.

    Opt out while you still can.

    Unless of course, you don’t mind thousands of lowly civil servants and other miscreants having access on a whim.

    Medical Insurance companies will also have access, are you still suggesting the nothing to hide BS?

  3. Robert Karl Stonjek
    13th August 2014

    Police don’t spy on ‘injecting rooms’ where illegal drugs are taken.

    Police are not particularly interested in end users which in most countries are viewed as victims. They are after the dealers, manufacturers and importers.

    Thus the police could easily agree not to use the database data on individuals although demographics and ‘hot spots’ (high concentrations of users in a particular area) could still be passed on to police without compromising privacy of individuals.

  4. Anonimo
    13th August 2014

    As was pointed out on another website, the UK police have been trying to set up a complete DNA database of all British subjects for some time. One more good reason for them not to have access to peoples’ medical records. Our country is supposed to be a free democracy, not a police state.

  5. DP
    13th August 2014

    Dear Miss Carr

    Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, is demanding access to our medical records.

    He seems to have some professional issues:


    Mr Fahy’s claim that 70% of people the police deal with are ‘vulnerable’ is a little low. When it comes to our dealings with our government and its agents, we are all vulnerable people.


  6. Anonymous
    15th August 2014

    No way!

    Breaches have occurred where staff have stolen records and sold them either for gain or for perswonal reasons – this is a step too far.

    If the Police want an individuals information, request it in the normal way for a particualr reason which is allowable under the DP Act, ensuring Data Protection Rights are maintained with this most sensitive of information.

    Why should they have everyones records all at once, 99% of the right of access woud be unnecessary and a against the Data Protection Principles

  7. Yokel
    16th August 2014

    Mr Fahy did not ask just for Greater Manchester, therefore I guess that he is acting as a stalking horse for ACPO Ltd.

    No, I do not trust Mr Fahy with my medical records any more than I trust a certain Mr T Kelsey of Leeds with my medical records. I have already, as one of the Anons above has suggested, opted out through whatever schemes the bureaucrats reluctantly offer. But as they appear to give serious credence both to Mr Kelsey’s scheme to give my medical records away simultaneously to Uncles Tom, Dick, and Harry, and also to this “crime fighting” proposal from Mr Fahy, I have no confidence that the bureaucrats will actually abide by my instructions not to share. I am certain they will weasel themselves round any hindrance like that.

    I have therefore already stopped seeing my GP and “return to sender” the plethora of requests from NHS services expecting me to have all manner of checks under the pretext of “just to make sure you are OK now you are a pensioner” or some such. I will have no further NHS treatment until both Fahy and Kelsey have lost their jobs, and admitted in writing, and in words of one syllable, that they were wrong even to consider making the suggestion and for that they admit they deserve instant dismissal for gross misconduct.

    What me, livid? You bet.

  8. Al
    20th August 2014

    Although there are voices of sanity, British lawmakers are not accountable to the general population. As the lawmakers are unaccountable, it follows, their enforcers, the police are unaccountable. Trust isn’t the issue, self protection is.

  9. Ellie
    16th February 2016

    The police are continually proving how untrustworthy they are. Why should these people have access to anybody’s medical records? I have recently suffered threats from them of access I get my medical records as they don’t like people with HIV! There is little justice in the UK as it is. The police have too much power and are unqualified to make assumptions about people on the basis of medical records. I have been made to feel ashamed about my ilness. So much so that this experience has caused me to try and take my own life. There is only rights for the wealthy in the UK. My life has been destroyed by the police and their threats and need to access my medical records. Please stop these bullies it could be you next.