The police should be given extended legal powers to access GP records for the purpose of protecting the vulnerable, and obtaining medical information outside the hours where it is possible to get a court order, a leading police officer has said.
Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said in an interview with the Guardian that vulnerable groups – increasingly comprised of the elderly and dementia sufferers – now account for 70% of police work.
He added that record access would allow police to track next of kin, and medical information for when dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s, or check for pertinent information on a patient’s drugs or alcohol history before responding to a call.
But the BMA has rejected the plans to extend police powers, saying that difficulties for the police were not sufficient to go against the fundamental rule of patient confidentiality.
The Guardian reports that Sir Peter even suggested doctors should be compelled to share the records of victims of domestic abuse, even where the patient has opposed reporting their situation.
Public concern about any extension of powers for police access to their medical records is likely to be heightened by the public attention drawn to NHS England’s flagship record sharing scheme, care.data.
The scheme was delayed in February as a result of a failed public awareness campaign – which reached less than a third of households – and widespread concern at the lack of controls on who could receive data.
Care.data would also enable the police a backdoor to records, requesting them from the Health and Social Care Information Centre database rather than having to approach the individual’s GP.
Sir Peter told the Guardian: ‘We could do a better job if we have greater access to information, which it is currently hard for us to get.’
‘It would give us a deeper understanding of those we are expected to help and their problems. The actions we take would be much improved if we had a better understanding of that history at the time we are called.’
On the call for GPs and other medical professionals to share records of those suffering domestic abuse he said: ‘The alternative is the woman continues to suffer … There should be the ability to share the information, against the woman’s wishes, to solve the problem, without a criminal justice system approach.’
‘Society has matured – there is a far greater expectation on public services to safeguard vulnerable people.’
‘Twenty years ago, with domestic abuse, it was seen as one of those things. Now there’s a greater expectation agencies will safeguard the victim whether or not they wish to make a complaint and enter the criminal justice system.’
But the chair of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, Dr Tony Calland, said: ‘The essential principle that runs throughout the recording of medical information is that of confidentiality and trust. This principle has stood the test of time for millennia and still holds good today.’
‘At present the checks and balances in the current legal position are satisfactory and whilst the current law may cause some difficulty for the police the case has not been made to recommend a substantial change in the law .’