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Act prompts GP concerns over confidentiality

Government plans to make it easier for organisations to access patient records without gaining consent raise 'real concerns' over confidentiality, GPs are warning.

The Department of Health has launched a consultation over extending section 60 of the Health and Social Care Act, which allows the Health Secretary to access patient-identifiable data without consent for 'medical purposes'.

The extra powers would mean management, commissioning, investigation and audit of the NHS, including producing statistics on perform- ance, would also be acceptable reasons.

The department said the powers would only be used in 'very limited circumstances' such as cancer research and controlling serious epidemics.

But the GPC said the move would enable the Government to carry out plans for it to hold a central electronic database of patient records without further consultation.

Dr Grant Kelly, a member of the RCGP/GPC joint computing group, said the changes would 'allow anybody to

examine a patient's record at any time for pretty much any reason'.

He said: 'The Government is manoeuvring itself into a position where it does not need consent from the patient and that is a real concern.'

Dr Kelly, a GP in Chichester, West Sussex, also accused the Government of trying to 'bury bad news' by holding the consultation over the Christmas holidays. He said: 'It's interesting that the deadline is in January, so much of the discussion should take place over Christmas when for obvious reasons people have other things on their mind.'

Rebecca Mussell, BMA senior ethics adviser, said the new regulations were 'very general'. She added: 'It is not clear how they are to be interpreted or

relied on in practice.'

The Medical Defence Union said it was concerned that doctors were not forced to disclose information against the wishes of patients.

A department spokesman said the provisions of section 60 did not allow patient information to be passed to private companies and third parties, or be abused by the Health Secretary, NHS or other organisations.

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