Ministers to Snoop on Patients' Private Medical Records ; T Law to Force Doctors to Pass on Details or Face Pounds 5,000 Fine T Civil Liberties Groups Warn of Threat to Human Rights
Jo Dillon Political Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)
The Government is proposing controversial legislation which will allow ministers to see and pass on confidential patient information contained in private medical files.
Under new legal regulations that will be brought to Parliament next week and are almost certain to be passed, the Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, will be allowed to order doctors to give him an individuals' medical records without their permission, to pass them on for research purposes or if there is a perceived risk to public health, and to fine doctors up to pounds 5,000 if they refuse to co- operate.
Civil liberties campaigners warn that the move could spell the end of the doctor-patient relationship and potentially breach human rights.
There are fears that information about mental health patients could be obtained for "research purposes" and passed on without the patient's consent, and that HIV and Aids sufferers could find that private information about their cases is no longer private.
Experts believe patients could be discouraged from discussing intensely private and potentially embarrassing complaints with their doctors.
At present, only the patient and the doctor have the right to see medical records. Information cannot be passed on without consent unless a court of law orders it, or the police request it in rape or murder cases or it contains information about a strict list of infectious diseases, including measles, mumps and meningitis, which must, by law, be passed to the Public Health Laboratory Service.
The director of Liberty, John Wadham, said: "This is another example of the absence of strong controls on our personal information.
"There is a growing trend in government towards sharing data. …