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Care Record is a scandal waiting to happen

It's not a question of whether electronic records will be abused but how often, fumes Phil

It's not a question of whether electronic records will be abused but how often, fumes Phil

I am a dedicated critic of our Government's plans to upload all of our medical records onto what is commonly known as the National Spine - a nationwide database that can be accessed from anywhere, giving the intimate medical details of anyone who has not actively opted out.

I'm not an IT expert, I'm an everyday family doctor, but after I became aware of this plan it took me 10 minutes to come up with several unanswerable reasons why it will inevitably be a complete bloody fiasco from the word go.

Not least among these is the fact that not one of the three or four dozen patients I have talked to about the National Spine had ever even heard of it - which makes the concept of implied consent an utter farce. And, in literally every case, once told, my patient has been horrified and asked to be excluded.

It would take me about 40 years to work through all of my patients in this way (not that there's any way our practice will comply with uploading our database under the current conditions) but maybe my job will be made a little easier by an exposé I've just seen.

The article in The Herald is headlined 'Rogue doctor accessed files for unknown reasons'. It turns out that seven prominent Scottish BBC journalists have had their records viewed, and have been warned of the fact in a letter from NHS Fife.

Apparently NHS Scotland is a little ahead of the rest of us in formulating a national database of medical records. It's not particularly extensive as yet - containing merely name, address, age, GP details and current medication - but I know for a fact that my Scottish in-laws are not going to be best pleased when I tell them anyone with access to an NHS computer can check whether they are on antidepressants.

Frankly, I'm glad these seven journalists had their confidentiality abused. Because if they weren't journalists, I doubt if we'd have heard anything about it. 'How come somebody in Fife can see NHS records for anyone in Scotland? I've got no connection at all with Fife,' said one of them.

The phrase 'rogue doctor' conjures up the image of some blundering madman who needs to be subdued with a sedative dart. But we all know it actually means some Joe with time on their hands, an inquiring mind, a prurient interest in people on the telly and an ignorance of computer tracking technology.

And that's the whole point. That's what most people with access to NHS computers are like. They're not highly trained computer technicians who've signed the Official Secrets Act. They're tabloid-reading berks; just like you and me, only thicker. Abuse will happen. It's not a question of if, but how often.

If you give thousands of people the means to access the medical records of the nation, then at the very least hundreds of them are going to start wondering whether the bloke who reads the news is on Viagra, or whether that daft woman next door is as mad as they think she is, or what exactly it is that is keeping their practice manager off on the sick for so long. This is not just a possibility, it's an absolute certainty.

The only person I trust with patient confidentiality is me. The 2,000 patients under my care can relax; no information about their medical care will ever enter the public domain without my personal say-so and their written consent, and their records will never be uploaded to the National Spine unless they opt in.

It seems that in Scotland this basic courtesy has already been widely betrayed. Let the chaos begin.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

It's not a question of whether electronic records will be abused, but how often, fumes Phil

How many are going to start wondering if that man who reads the news is on Viagra?

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