Eight healthcare organisations have called for medical records to be excluded from the data-sharing provisions of the Coroners and Justice Bill, in the latest stage of the campaign against them.
The organisations, which include the British Medical Association, Royal College of Surgeons and Royal College of General Practitioners, have written to justice secretary Jack Straw to raise concerns about the plans, which would allow the sharing of personal data across Whitehall departments.
The letter expresses “grave concerns” about clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, which the signatories claim would grant the government unprecedented powers to access people’s confidential medical records and share them with third parties.
The letter adds: “In our view the Bill will undermine the presumption of confidentiality, corrode trust in the doctor-patient relationship and could have a disastrous impact on both the health of individuals and the public.”
The Bill has been the subject of widespread critcisim from privacy campaigners and other organisations including the BMA, the British Computer Society and the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Aides to Straw have indicated that the justice secretary now accepts that the data sharing provisions are too broad and that several amendments will be tabled when it reaches its report stage in the Commons this month.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chair of BMA council, said that if patients could not be 100% sure that their records were confidential, they would inevitably be reluctant to share vital information with their doctor.
He added: “The justice secretary has indicated that he is willing to amend this legislation to protect a person’s right to confidentiality. We welcome the fact that he is taking people’s concerns on board, and hope he will provide assurances that confidential health information will be exempt.”
The eight organisations also comprise the Medical Protection Society, Medical Defence Union, Faculty of Public Health, Royal College of Nursing and Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.
The health bodies said the Bill’s data-sharing powers could also undermine confidence in the NHS Care Records Service. The letter adds: “A loss of trust could result in patients opting out of sharing their data, affecting their care, impeding public health initiatives and impacting upon the quality of research.”
The letter says legislation already exists to enable discolsure of health information where it is not possible to obtain patient consent and that NHS Connecting for Health and the Information Centre are working on proposals to enable controlled access to anonoymised and pseudoanonymised data for research purposes.
It adds: “With these existing mechaisms in place we can see no case for introducing sweeping powers to enable ministers to order the release of health information.”
The organisations call for an early meeting with Jack Straw to discuss their concerns. The Bill is due to go to committee stage today.