Doctors Call for a Halt in Developing NHS Patient Database

  • Date: March 11, 2010
  • Source: admin

The Medical Records Database for Patients in England has come under fire of criticisms recently. Although the plan was built for organizing online appointments system and e-prescriptions in a hassle free way and also to maintain record of 50 million patients, its repeated criticism over security has left many concerned about using the plan.

Why the NHS Patient Database is Creating a Negative Buzz

This database is means of the government to transfer everyone's medical history to a massive, centrally–held, government–controlled database and the medical records are potentially viewable to hundreds of thousands of NHS staff nationwide.
The turning off point in this record maintaining is that the medical data of the patient gets uploaded by default without even noticing the patient. Patient has to actively object through an “opt out” mechanism to cancel his/her medical data from recording otherwise it will be uploaded automatically and will no more remain confidential for the patient.

History of NHS Patient Database

Problem related to NHS patient database is not taking place for the first time. In fact it started as early as in January 2008 when a poll by the British Medical Association revealed that nine out of ten doctors had no confidence in this government's ability to safeguard patients' data online or felt that they were in a position to assure patients that their data would be safe.

In June 2009, at the British Medical Association conference, the BMA adopted the following formal policy motions:

• this meeting strongly supports the principles of clinical confidentiality and
• believes the GP role as the data holder of their registered patients' clinical records is fundamental to maintaining confidentiality
• believes an opt-in approach by the patient (or their appropriate representative) empowers patients to understand the implications of any transfer of patient identifiable clinical information from their record to a third party
• believes that when releasing information on named patients it is not sufficient to assume implied consent
• believes patients should be able to ask for a list of the occasions that their Summary Care Record (SCR) has been accessed, and by whom
• deplores attempts to place obstacles in the path of patients wishing to restrict the distribution of their medical records

But interestingly, a survey of 435 GP surgery practice managers and associated staff done in March 2009 revealed that just 35% thought the Spine (the NHS Database) was secure!

History of Data Loss and Misused in England

Starting from 2007, till date the England government is maintaining a record of losing data of its citizens:

In 2007:

• HM Revenue & Customs lost 2 CDs containing unencrypted child benefit records for 25 million people (including the bank details of 7.25 million families and till date, this loss is regarded as the biggest single loss of personal data from any country)

• HM Revenue & Customs lost the pension policy details of 15,000 customers

• The Department of Work and Pensions lost the personal financial details of 40,000 housing benefit claimants

• The DVLA lost the details of 3 million candidates for the driving theory test

• In April 2007, The Department of Health (DoH) made the personal details of medical students – including their religious beliefs and sexual orientation –viewable for the prospective doctors applying for their first time on a public and unsecured website.

In 2008:

• The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) admitted that four computer discs containing personal and confidential details of magistrates court cases went missing in the post

• The Home Office admitted that it had lost, for more than a year, a computer disc containing details of 4,000 DNA profiles of suspected foreign criminals. The failure to correlate that lost data with our own has had serious implications for the public safety of UK citizens

• The Ministry of Defense (MoD) admitted to losing unencrypted personal, medical and financial details of 600,000 applicants for the Armed Forces

In July 2008 the Ministry of Defense was finally forced to admit that:
• It had lost 747 of its laptops had been in the past four years

• Not only laptops, but 131 of its computer memory sticks had also been lost or stolen in the past four years

• Additionally, they had no idea how or when these items had been lost or stolen

However, the same incident got repeated with Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in August 2008. MoJ also admitted that it had misplaced the personal and confidential record of 45,000 people, including dates of birth, criminal record etc. interestingly, these events of admitting loss or misplacement went on for almost all governmental organizations.

Even in 2009, the record of losing or misplacing personal data went on. February 2010 also witnessed another casual attitude of the government in dealing with personal data when NHS Appraisal Toolkit website revealed that the 9 year old system which contained highly confidential information was not "sufficiently robust to withstand modern-day hacking".

Moreover, chairman of the BMA, Hamish Meldrum finds the root of the problem of using the software lies not only with the programming of creating records of patients without even informing them but also in its “break-neck speed”. Further, he adds "If the process continues to be rushed, not only will the rights of patients be damaged, but the limited confidence of the public and the medical profession in NHS IT will be further eroded."


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