Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Saturday, 8 December 2012

NHS Summary Care Records

Today I received a letter from the NHS "Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Cluster" advising me that unless I object, a "Summary Care Record" will be created on my behalf. The letter suggests that this will be a good thing as information will then be readily available for my care in an emergency.
"The record will contain information about any medicines you are taking, allergies you suffer from and any bad reactions to medicines you have had, to ensure those caring for you have enough information to treat you safely"

Now, on the surface, this seems a good idea, until one looks at the detail and in particular the security detail.
"Healthcare staff will ask your permission before they look at your record, except in certain circumstances for example if you are unconscious."
To me, this means there is no security, anyone with access to the system can look up the details of any patient whose records are on the system. Logically, if they can look up my record if I am unconscious, they can also look up my record when I'm miles away.
"By law, anyone working for us or on our behalf must respect your confidentiality and keep all information about you secure".
I don't doubt that is the legal situation, but laws are frequently broken, as in the case of the phone hacking saga and the number of public officials who subsequently have been arrested for selling information to the media.
To access the data, Healthcare staff will "need to have an NHS smartcard with a chip and passcode" and "will have their details recorded". But then similar rules apply to the Police National Computer and this has been subject to quite a bit of misuse by both police officers and administrative staff in order to obtain personal details. Whilst this occasionally comes to light in the course of some other investigation, it would seem that the majority of misuse goes unnoticed. Why would the NHS be any different?
The concluding paragraph is rather disingenuous
"No matter how careful we are, there are always risks when information is held on computers as there is when they are held on paper"
No, the risks are far higher when they are held on computer. It takes a matter of just a few seconds for someone, anywhere in the country, to access records on a computer and copy them to a memory stick. With paper records, only someone at the hospital where you are being treated or at your GP's surgery could access the records, and copying requires time either at a photocopier or to make notes longhand, either of which I would suggest is a far more risky business.
Finally, regarding children it seems that parents may opt out, but "In some circumstances your GP may feel it is in your child's best interests to have a Summary Care Record". Big Brother now knows what is best for your child.

I strongly oppose these nationwide computer systems and have a strong dislike of the "Unless we hear to the contrary, we will ... " attitude. The only way you can keep your data secure is to keep it yourself, and I would have been quite happy to put a small memory stick with the information onto my key ring which is always in my pocket. My wife, who is on warfarin blood thinner, always carries her record booklet in her handbag along with a list of the other drugs she takes, and if one believes what one is told, this is all that will be on the Summary Care Record, so this information will presumably meet any emergency care needs.

Another point of interest is who outside the NHS will be given access to the information, and for what purposes?  In this contest it is worth noting that DVLA has banned more than 150 councils from accessing their database after they had breached motorists' privacy (Daily Mail). How long will it be before the NHS allows access, say, "for research" and the priviledge is similarly abused?

I have 12 weeks to make a decision but I will probably decide to opt out.


  1. Having done some work on part of a system forming the electronic patient care record I can only agree. The summary records are only supposed to be accessed from terminals on the dedicated NHS net ( called the Spine ). However, as you you rightly say and as I as an insider know, it wont be long before some government numpty decides so-and-so need access for such-and-such. Way too much Big Brother in this country.

    1. I just wonder how long it will be before the police want access, just to check nobody is driving under the influence of drugs. After all, nearly every drug has a warning "May cause drowsiness, if so don't drive or operate machinery" The police will love chasing all those who take such a drug.