A GP who is seeking publication of the Department of Health’s legal advice on plans for the Summary Care Record (SCR) has told the Information Commissioner (IC) he needs an urgent response to his request.

Dr Paul Thornton, a GP in Warwickshire, lodged a Freedom of Information Act appeal with the Information Commissioner in May after the DH refused to release its legal advice on the legal status of the health information stored as part of the SCR project.

Dr Thornton is still waiting for a decision from the IC but has now written again requesting an urgent response on the issue.

He told the IC: “Clarification is needed urgently as components of the database are already resulting in the dissemination of data beyond the legal entities by whom it has been first recorded in confidence.”

Dr Thornton’s application to the Information Commissioner relates to legal advice the government obtained when a ministerial review of the SCR proposals was carried out in 2006. Dr Thornton told the Information Commissioner that publication of the advice was in the public interest in understanding the legal implications for medical confidentiality and outweighed the public interest in maintaining legal privilege in the case.

Following his application to the IC in May Dr Thornton has sent two further letters to the ICO highlighting his concerns.

In a letter sent on 30 July Dr Thornton asks for new development to be taking into account when considering his application including the IC’s own Data Sharing Review and a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights that a nurse in Finland had her right to privacy breached when her electronic record was accessed by colleagues.

Dr Thornton told the IC: “The NHS database relies on deterrent laws and retrospective employment sanctions on staff who access records inappropriately. The judgement is clear that, though important, such legal mechanisms do not provide sufficient protection, even if misusers might be identified retrospectively by an audit trail.”

Last month Dr Thornton wrote again to the IC asking for parliamentary answers from health minister Ben Bradshaw to be taken into account.

In the parliamentary answers the health minister stated that the health secretary was already a data controller for detailed care records.

Dr Thornton tells the IC: “This claim is unsustainable in terms of established custom

and practice. Publication of the counsel’s opinion is required to determine if this claim is at all sustainable in law.”

A spokesperson for the ICO told EHI Primary Care that it was unable to give a likely timescale for its response to Dr Thornton.

She added: “We work through them as quickly as we can.”


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