The NHS is no stranger to controversy. Plagued with a reputation of lost records, technical issues and patient mistreatment, the government can now add a new charge to that hopeless list. The NHS has been accused of scaremongering tactics; forcing patients into agreeing to have their personal information included on the notorious electronics record database.
The computerised record system, otherwise known as the care summary record, is supposed to make it easier for medical staff to obtain information about a patient's medical details. Under the current system, health records are written on paper files and cannot be easily accessed by hospital staff. More than 1.25 million patients already have their medical histories on the new database, a figure which, if the NHS have predicted correctly, could rise to as many as 50 million in the future. If previous form is anything to go by, that's quite an optimistic estimate. The programme has previously been beset with delays, problems and criticisms. In fact, only last month the government postponed the national roll-out after it became apparent that some patient's data could have been logged on to the system without the permission of the individual.
At the Infosecurity Europe conference this month, Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith said that the NHS currently hold the undesirable title as the biggest single UK organisation that loses data. Since November 2007, a staggering 287 out of 962 serious data loss incidents have been made by the NHS.
You'd expect any organisation which processes personal information to at least ensure that the information is secure. Not so, with the NHS. The most recent episode was the loss of a data stick containing information on psychiatric patients in Forth Valley, Scotland. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has announced that they'll be investigating the matter. The ICO recently gained the power to fine organisations up to £500,000 for serious data breaches, but they said it was 'too early' to say whether they would consider using its powers in this instance.
But if ever the ICO needed a reason to wield their authority, surely the NHS (and their debacle of a track record) provides the perfect incentive for tougher sanctions?
Despite the latest data loss errors, the NHS Connecting for Health agency posted a document on their website listing the dangers to patients if they continued to have their medical information stored in paper form. Warnings have been placed on the site saying that failure to sign up could lead to further lost records and operating errors. Visitors to the website are warned that if they choose to opt out of the computerised scheme, they could suffer 'adverse consequences' or a 'delay for correct treatment'.
The document states, that if a patient chooses to opt out, then:
Critics have panned Connecting for Health's controversial tactics; a strategy which highlights the risks of the current paper-based records system whilst brushing aside concerns about the care summary record. Experts argue that the dangers are not as severe as the NHS is suggesting. A department of Health spokesman said the problem of lost records was not a major concern, prompting further speculation that the government is frightening patients into joining the scheme.
By Tom Tainton, Smartcard & Identity News
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