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Independents' Day

Academics to access records

The Government is to press ahead with controversial plans to open up electronic patient records to researchers, after a report claimed patient confidentiality could be adequately protected.

The report, from an expert group headed by Professor Ian Diamond, chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, and set up by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, is based on a series of simulations examining how the NHS Care Records Service could support clinical research.

It stresses that 'research is integral to patient benefit', and recommends patient information be linked more widely to other data sources.

Some researchers may need to access identifiable patient records, it also warns.

'There will be occasions where data needs to be linkable and comprehensive at the individual patient level in order to have maximum value,' it concludes. 'Appropriate approaches to consent will need to be built into access mechanisms which might be capable of being linked to a specific patient.'

Health minister Lord Hunt said he supported the report's recommendations.

The report comes in the same week that several leading research experts – some of whom worked on the UKCRC report – told MPs that the use of electronic patient records for research purposes would have huge public health benefits.

Giving oral evidence to the current Health Select Committee inquiry into the electronic patient record, Professor Carol Dezateux, a paediatric expert at the Institute of Child Health and one of the report's simulation leads, said: 'Through linkage with electronic records, we will be able to get data that will help patients with certain conditions. In this way, the invasion of privacy is sometimes necessary.'

Professor Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the UKCRC R&D Advisory Group, said there was a need to strike a balance between researchers' needs and the rights of patients.

Who will have access to records for research?

Connecting for Health has yet to confirm exactly who will have access to electronic care records.
In its submission to the Health Select Committee electronic care record inquiry, technology provider BT suggested selling data to drugs companies to raise NHS funds.
This week's report suggested researchers might sometimes need access to identifiable records.

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