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The News Line: News Patient confidentiality breached! PATIENT confidentiality has been breached! Immigration centres, police stations and prisons have been given full access to hundreds of thousands of patients’ medical records, in what may well constitute and illegal breach of the Data Protection Act.


A person’s medical records are by law completely confidential and up until now only medical personnel directly dealing with the patient in question can view them. However, the SystmOne IT system run by Yorkshire-based private company TPP now has millions of patient records on its computerised system.

TPP boasts that SystmOne has ‘over 44 million patient records. Over 6,000 NHS organisations – including more than 2,600 GP practices and all 142 prisons.’ It has now emerged that around 6,600 organisations can view patient private records using the SystmOne IT system.

These organisations include healthcare staff contracted to 23 police station ‘custody suites’, prisons, and immigration removal centres, including Yarl’s Wood, where asylum seekers are held pending immigration status decisions.

Patients would have to consciously ‘opt-out’; however the majority of patients are not aware that they are on the system or if they are aware, they are not aware of the full extent to which their private information is being shared.

Assuming agreement unless the patient ‘opts-out’ is not explicit consent by anyone’s definition.
2,600 GP surgeries are using the system. If the practice has switched on the ‘sharing function’ and the patient hasn’t explicitly objected, their records are now open to be accessed by any one of the 6,600 organisations.

General Practitioners Committee IT head Dr Cundy commented: ‘I don’t believe any GP has ever fully understood the extent of this sharing. So if the GP has not understood it, then how can you fully inform anyone?

‘Even now, now practices can see this list of 6,600 organisations, how do you fairly inform patients about that? It’s completely unreasonable to assume that patients will understand the scale of the sharing, or be happy with sharing access to their confidential patient records with these organisations.’

• 60 GP practices were incorrectly sent debt repayment letters over supposedly unpaid property fees invoices, which included threats of bailiffs and legal proceedings. NHS Property Services said it was aware of around 200 letters that were sent in error to GP surgeries including GP practices during January and February this year. It pointed to its private sub-contractor NHS Shared Business Services (SBS) for the error, stating it was no longer using the company for this function.

Meanwhile, there has been a 150 per cent rise in the number of patients forced to move GP surgery, an investigation has uncovered. Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee deputy chair, said:  ‘The crisis in general practice is now impacting patients right across the country.
‘Practices are facing unacceptable and unjustified rises in premises charges which could be the last straw for some GPs and practices. We urgently need a step change in action to resolve the crisis in general practice before even more patients are impacted and more communities lose their much-loved GP service.’
 
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