|Big brother to log your drinking habits and waist
size as GPs are forced to hand over confidential records
By Jack Doyle
GPs are to be forced to hand over confidential records on all their patients’ drinking habits, waist sizes and illnesses.
The files will be stored in a giant information bank that privacy campaigners say represents the ‘biggest data grab in NHS history’.
They warned the move would end patient confidentiality and hand personal information to third parties.
The data includes weight, cholesterol levels, body mass index, pulse rate, family health history, alcohol consumption and smoking status.
Diagnosis of everything from cancer to heart disease to mental illness would be covered. Family doctors will have to pass on dates of birth, postcodes and NHS numbers.
Officials insisted the personal information would be made anonymous and deleted after analysis.
But Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, said: ‘Under these proposals, medical confidentiality is, in effect, dead and there is currently nobody standing in the way.’ Nick Pickles, of the privacy group Big Brother Watch, said NHS managers would now be in charge of our most confidential information.
He added: ‘It is unbelievable how little the public is being told about what is going on, while GPs are being strong-armed into handing over details about their patients and to not make a fuss.
‘Not only have the public not been told what is going on, none of us has been asked to give our permission for this to happen.’
The data grab is part of Everyone Counts, a programme to extend the availability of patient data across the Health Service.
GPs will be required to send monthly updates on their patients to a central database run by the NHS’s Health and Social Care Information Centre.
Health chiefs will be able to demand information on every patient, such as why they have been referred to a consultant. Another arm of the NHS will supply data on patient prescriptions.
In a briefing for GPs, health chiefs admit that ‘patient identifiable components’ will be demanded, including post code and date of birth.
NHS officials insist the information centre will be a ‘safe haven’ for personal data, which will be deleted soon after it is received.
The information will be used to analyse demand for services and improve treatment.
But a document outlining the scheme even raises the prospect of clinical data being passed on or sold to third parties.
It states: ‘The patient identifiable components will not be released outside the safe haven except as permitted by the Data Protection Act.
‘HSCIC ... will store the data and link it only where approved and necessary, ensuring that patient confidentiality is protected.’
Patients will not be able to opt out of the system.
Before the election the Tories condemned the creation of huge databases – including the controversial NHS IT project – and insisted it would roll back ‘Labour’s database state’.
But last month, in the first sign of a dramatic shift away from this
position, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wanted millions of private
medical records to be stored and shared between hospitals, GPs, care homes
and even local councils. He sold the programme as part of plans for a ‘paperless
NHS’ by 2018 and claimed ‘thousands of lives’ would be saved.
Last night GPs’ leaders said the latest proposals were too broad.
‘Patients must be given the option to opt out of any scheme that seeks to transfer identifiable information about them from their records to another source,’ said a BMA spokesman.
‘This opt-out should be widely advertised and explained in order that patients are reassured and understand the process being carried out.’
Phil Booth of the campaign group NO2ID said an unprecedented volume of data would be ‘sucked up’.
‘People have to trust in the notion of medical confidentiality. They expect to be able to talk in confidence to their GP,’ he said.
‘They don’t expect their private conversations to be uploaded on to a national database where they will be made available for any number of purposes for the benefit of persons unknown.’
A spokesman for the NHS said last night: ‘The NHS constitution makes clear what information can be used for by the NHS and this proposal complies exactly with that.’