Will NHS reforms create threat to patient confidentiality

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The British Medical Association (BMA) has written to the Health Minister, Simon Burns to highlight its concerns about the lack of protection of patient confidentiality in the Bill, which is currently going through the House of Commons. 

Why are the BMA concerned?  The Bill proposes that there be unrestricted sharing of information about patients between a number of NHS groups, particularly the new NHS Commissioning Board and the NHS Information Centre.   They will be given the right to obtain and disclose confidential patient information for a very wide range of unspecified purposes. 
What this means is that you or I could discover that our patient notes have been disclosed to another NHS body without our consent or knowledge.  This undermines existing rules on patient confidentiality, and also undermines the control of the doctor over the patient's information.  That in turn will affect your relationship with your doctor because if you find out that information about you has been disclosed without your consent, you will naturally be concerned as to why your doctor did not prevent this breach of confidentiality. 

In my experience, the issue of access to health records is something that is of great concern to patients.  We frequently receive enquiries from patients who are concerned that their medical records may have been accessed by someone inappropriate, such as a member of staff at a GP surgery, or are concerned at the way their records have been used by, say, an insurer. 

Also, I am concerned that existing protections for patient confidentiality, which are found in the Data Protection Act, the Access to Records Act, and guidelines issued by the BMA, which have established legal and ethical safeguards, would appear to be undermined by this new Bill.

In its letter to the Government the BMA has said that they will be lobbying Government to ensure that the Bill is changed to enshrine the need for explicit patient consent for any disclosure of information, unless the information is being properly anonymised or there is an overriding public interest.

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