The British Medical Association has told the government it believes the Health and Social Care Bill will threaten patient confidentiality because of clauses that it claims will enable widespread information sharing.
The doctors’ union has set out its concerns in a letter to health minister Simon Burns and called on the Department of Health to redraft the legislation to protect patients’ privacy.
In the letter, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, and Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA’s medical ethics committee, said the association had “serious concerns” about information sharing.
The letter adds: “After closely considering the detail of the legislation it is clear that the Health and Social Care Bill gives very broad powers to a number of bodies including the Secretary of State, the NHS Commissioning Board and the NHS Information Centre to obtain and disclose confidential information for any number of unspecified health purposes.”
The BMA said the Bill contained very little about confidentiality and information governance but gave “unprecedented” access to patient data.
It also said it was concerned that the legislative changes would mean fears about the confidentiality of data would lead to patients withholding important information.
The association is proposing a number of amendments to try to make sure that the Bill does not undermine existing legislation and common law, while providing protection for sensitive patient information.
The letter goes on: “The Information Revolution promises increased patient control over health records, yet the legislation seeks to give greater information-sharing powers to the government and other appointed bodies rather than patients or healthcare professionals.”
The DH said there was no question of the Bill undermining the confidentiality of patients and their clinicians.
A spokesperson added: “The bill does not change any of the existing legal safeguards, which are set out in the Data Protection Act and the common law of confidence. We are happy to work with the BMA to understand their concerns.”