Jeremy Hunt plans sale of confidential patient medical records to private firms

Confidential medical records may be offered to private companies for as little as £1, according to plans drawn up by officials.

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Jeremy Hunt wants to see a data revolution in the Health Service. Photo: REUTERS

The new General Practice Extraction Service will consolidate NHS patient records sent to a central database by GPs around the country.

The project has been described by campaigners as an “unprecedented threat” to medical confidentiality, and doctors do not have to inform patients that their records are being passed on.

The records will include details of medical conditions and patient identifiable information including a patient’s NHS number, postcode and date of birth, reports the Daily Mail.

Private firms such as Bupa are able to purchase the records for research by applying to the Health Service.

The project is being driven by NHS England but has been championed by Jeremy Hunt.

It is hoped that sharing GP records wth universities and private companies could give a boost to NHS coffers as well as providing a valuable tool for medical research, monitoring flu outbreaks and screening for common diseases.

Mr Hunt also believes that providing easier access to health information will attract pharmaceutical companies and life sciences firms to the UK.

However, privacy campaigners have expressed reservations over the data sharing plans.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “The more people who have access to sensitive data, the greater the risk that it will not be protected properly. We’ve seen that on umpteen occasions in the past.

“And when there’s a financial element involved, it introduces all sorts of incentives that are not necessarily about protecting privacy.”

Phil Booth, of campaign group medConfidential, said: “They are presenting this as some anodyne thing that’s only going to be used for health research. But this is a massive re-engineering of how everybody’s medical records are going to be used. It is an unprecedented threat to our medical confidentiality.”

100 GP surgeries in England will upload details from patient records to the service next month, with information put on medical records from April 1 2013 initially included on the uploads.

Names and addresses will not be uploaded but date of birth, postcode, gender and ethnicity all will.

Campaigners fear that cross-referencing the data with publicly available records – such as the electoral roll – would allow malicious individuals to identify a patient’s medical records.

So far 55 organisations have been accredited to apply for identifiable or sensitive data. Most of these are NHS bodies, but Bupa, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and hospital comparison firm Dr Foster have also acquired accreditation.

An NHS England spokesman denied the organisation was failing to tell patients about the scheme or promote it.

And a Department of Health spokesman said: “Jeremy Hunt has made clear that any patient who does not want personal data to be shared securely with HSCIC will have their objection respected.”