How Safe Will Your Medical Records Be Online? Davis Raises Spectre of WikiLeaks over Plan to Put NHS Data on Web

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Byline: Daniel Martin Whitehall Correspondent

THE privacy of patients could be jeopardised by a decision to give them the right to view their medical records online, it was claimed yesterday.

GPs will be given until 2015 to give all patients full online access to view and edit their records, download their entire medical history and see details of prescriptions and appointments.

But MPs, patient groups and doctors have lined up to warn that the scheme could put people's records at risk. Senior Tory David Davis said of the decision: 'How many WikiLeaks lessons does this government need?'

They say an online system would be vulnerable to hackers, or sensitive medical information - such as life-threatening illnesses, mental health problems and sexual health issues - could be made public by accident.

The Conservatives pledged before the election to give patients the right to check and edit their NHS records online, and Chancellor George Osborne unveiled the 2015 deadline last month in his autumn statement. Patients will not be able to automatically overwrite notes made by a doctor but will be able to point out mistakes or ask for a second opinion from their GP. The doctor could then change the records accordingly.

Yesterday the NHS Future Forum, a group of senior doctors who influence government health policy, backed the scheme.

The Department of Health estimates there will be significant financial benefits, because patients will make fewer visits to their GPs for consultations and for repeat prescriptions that can be done over the web.

But last night former Tory home affairs spokesman and leadership contender Mr Davis said the risks of the scheme outweighed the benefits.

He said previous IT failings, such as the loss by HMRC of the tax details of 20million people on an unencrypted disk and the secret U.S. cables obtained by WikiLeaks, had highlighted the danger of relying on computer systems. 'This medical records policy is dependent on the security that surrounds it, but it is probably unwise,' he said.

'There could be some benefits but the risk is much greater than the benefits.

'This information could become available by accident or by the action of malicious hackers. How many WikiLeaks lessons does this government need?

'If you put these things online, at some point or another people will get access to them. And with medical records, that is very serious - just as serious as the loss of 20million tax records.'

Joyce Robins, of pressure group Patient Concern, said: 'If this is to be introduced, we would want to see proper consent to ensure that patients were only put on the system if they want to be there. But the talk today is wider and broader.

'The security is going to have to be very tight and anything that goes online has to have question marks over it.'

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: 'Patient confidentiality is paramount. Health records are among the most personal and sensitive information kept about patients and they must be protected. …