Should Microsoft and Google Have Control of Our NHS Medical Records? That's What the Conservatives Want to Do

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TORY PLANS to hand medical records to private companies and allow patients to alter their medical histories online risk compromising privacy and preventing doctors from gaining swift access to vital data, medical workers and MPs have warned.

Companies such as Microsoft and Google will be allowed to compete for contracts to host patient records online under reforms outlined by the Conservatives yesterday. The party hopes to save the NHS millions by using the scheme to replace the Government's 12bn NHS IT system that has been dogged by problems since its launch in 2002.

Under the scheme, NHS trusts would be able to choose from a list of computer systems, with patients given online access to update their records with information on their symptoms and blood pressure.

However, just hours after the high-profile policy launch, the British Medical Association (BMA) said that the health of thousands of people could be put at risk by the project, which could also hand hackers the chance to gain access to personal details.

"We have concerns about the security of web-based systems, and the implications of data being held by the private sector," said Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics. "There would need to be very strong safeguards and an accurate audit trail, making it clear what changes or deletions had been made to records and by whom. All NHS IT systems must reach the highest possible standards for privacy, accuracy, security, and usability."

Plans to give patients a username and password so they could access their records, as well as allowing them to edit their details, also posed a safety risk, Dr Nathanson said. "We are concerned by the suggestion that healthcare staff could be restricted from accessing important clinical information. Clinicians need access to records in order to do their jobs.

"If the information they have is incomplete - for example because pathologists have been prevented from entering test results - there could be implications for patient safety, as well as a negative impact on valuable health research. In a situation where a child was at risk of abuse, we would be very concerned about information being removed from their records by a family member. …