Data loss

By AnthonyLast updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 • Save & ShareLeave a Comment

The Guardian reports on general practitioner concerns about the new NHS spine and issues of confidentiality:

Nearly two-thirds of family doctors are poised to boycott the government’s scheme to put the medical records of 50 million NHS patients on a national electronic database, a Guardian poll reveals today.

With suspicion rife across the profession that sensitive personal data could be stolen by hackers and blackmailers, the poll found 59% of GPs in England are unwilling to upload any record without the patient’s specific consent.

Three-quarters of family doctors said medical records would become less secure when they are put on a database that will eventually be used by NHS and social services staff throughout England. Half thought the records would be vulnerable to hackers and unauthorised access by officials outside the NHS. A quarter feared bribery or blackmail of people with access to the records and 21% suspected that social services staff would not adhere to the confidentiality rules.

There are real benefits of increased access to medical records, both for individual care and for public health reasons (large databases of patients could be used for drug safety monitoring). However, allowing greater access to health information does increase the risk of loss of confidentiality. Regardless of the technological security, the system is operated by humans.

An analogy might be the debate balance between civil liberties and security in liberal democracies responses to a terrorist threat. How much risk of loss of confidentiality can we accept for the additional benefits increased sharing of health information may give?

In a not unrelated piece of news, half the population of the UK have just had very personal information put at risk. Incidents like this hardly inspire confidence.

“The missing information contains details of all Child Benefit recipients: records for 25 million individuals and 7.25 million families. These records include the recipient and their children’s names, addresses and dates of birth. It includes Child Benefit numbers, National Insurance numbers and, where relevant, bank or building society account details.”

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