Monday, 3 March 2008

Access to your medical records

As anyone listening to the Radio 4 Today programme this morning will know, Tony Collins at Computer Weekly has discovered, in a document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that patient records from the new NHS IT Database can be viewed by ‘non-qualified NHS staff.

In my earlier “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” I made the point that, although I could see huge advantages to ‘Cloud Computing’ it was the security/confidentially issues that worried me most. Indeed I used access to my NHS medical records as an example. I’ve often asked my friends "If offered the choice of which set of records they would least like to see in the public domain – tax, employment, financial or medical?" They all always opt for the complete secrecy of their medical records. Our medical records can contain huge amounts of information which might be embarrassing at best - or downright dangerous at worse - if they came into the wrong hands. The wrong hands here are, for example, your employer concerned about your likely health record (or your drinking or drug taking), an insurance company concerned if you have taken an HIV test, a partner looking for previous STDs or the US Immigration Services looking for…anything!

There are 800,000 people working for the NHS. It now looks as if (as I feared) any receptionist can now look up the database. I’m sure that most will only use it for the purpose intended. But how easy to access a neighbour, workmate, new boyfriend or ex-husband? That’s one step away from doing it for someone else. I remember when the DVLA database was setup we were all assured that access could only be made by the Police. There were lots of Police too and it became pretty simple to get any driver details you needed. Now, of course, its legit with insurance companies etc all having access to these details.

Even if access is restricted, CDs still get ‘lost’…

As you can see, I’ve changed my views about large centralised databases. Maybe I’m becoming a Luddite too.

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