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Insurance firms ‘will not be sold records’

Published on 03/03/14 at 08:09am
Hunt image
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is to put in place legislation on that will make it ‘rock solid’

The government is to pledge that insurance companies will not be sold patients’ health records via the information sharing scheme, according to reports.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is to put in place legislation on that will give a ‘rock solid’ guarantee that the new system, which is to be built up from GPs’ records and linked to hospital archives, will be secure.

His intervention comes after it emerged that in January 2012 the hospital admissions records of 47 million people - including their diagnoses, treatments, ages and areas in which they lived - from 1989 to 2010 were given to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries to help with setting insurance premiums.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) - one of whose senior executives came under fire on exactly this point at a health select committee hearing last week - is managing the data for the new scheme but will not be able to share it unless there is “a clear health or care benefit for people”.

A Department of Health spokeswoman told Press Association (PA) that the new legal safeguards put “beyond any doubt that the HSCIC cannot release identifiable, or potentially identifiable, patient data for commercial insurance or other purely commercial purposes”.

Health select committee chairman Stephen Dorrell said last week that he was going to write to Hunt to ‘pursue’ the matter of data releases.

The giant project was due to launch next month but will now not be rolled out until the autumn after NHS England admitted that it needs more time to convince the public of its merits, as doctors groups had been saying.

The putative new legislation is designed to allay concerns: for example, it will apparently be enshrined in law that researchers who want access to data from which patients can be identified must show “an ethical reason to do so”.

PA quotes ‘a source close to’ Hunt saying: “The principles around this programme, which will bring real benefits to patients, are fundamentally right, and we completely support them. But, alongside a new campaign from NHS England to explain the programme to the public and GPs, we also need to ensure that robust legislation is in place to address their concerns.”

HSCIC director of information and data services Max Jones told MPs last week that it was not possible to answer the question of which organisations have already received patient information before April 2013, which is when the centre was set up.

Who patients’ medical information might be given to and whether individual patients would be able to be identified from it - even though it is meant to be anonymised - are two of the key worries over the project.

Jones said the HSCIC was thinking about getting records anonymised before they left GP practices, which might make the process more secure - although such a move would presumably require more resources to be earmarked for GPs.

Advocates of say it will enable them to assess diseases, examine new drugs on the market and identify infection outbreaks as well as monitor the performance of the NHS.

Adam Hill

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