47m medical records sold to insurance companies!

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Doctors in Tower Hamlets during their national strike action in June 2012
Doctors in Tower Hamlets during their national strike action in June 2012

UNISON and the GMB yesterday reacted angrily to the revelation that the hospital records of 47 million NHS patients have been sold to insurance companies to help them ‘refine’ their premiums.

Between 1997 and 2010 data tracking medical histories contained in the NHS Hospital Episode Statistics were ‘a valuable source in developing pricing assumptions for “critical illness” cover’, says Extending the Critical Path, a report by the Staple Inn Actuarial Society.

Unison Head of Health Christina McAnea said: ‘No wonder people are worried about signing up to the new GP patient data scheme, when we now know that hospital medical records are being sold off to insurance companies.

‘It is outrageous that private companies have been able to gather detailed information, including the date of birth and postcodes of millions of patients.

‘Most people would support the idea of medical professionals sharing information in order to improve treatment and the likelihood of important medical breakthroughs, but patient privacy is paramount and should not be compromised because of use for private profit.’

GMB NHS National Officer Rehana Azam told News Line: ‘We call on the Secretary of State for Health and Department of Health officials to guarantee that personal patient data is not being sold for any means of profit.

‘Any sharing of personal data should only be with bodies who are either delivering patient care or those who want to improve outcomes.

‘This report commissioned a number of bodies’ input, including one from a credit reference agency as well as insurers.’

Rugby GP Dr Lesli Davies said: ‘We want data to help patient care but we want to protect patient confedentiality.

‘If the hospital data that insurance companies already have can identify patients that is a worry.’

On the government’s planned national database, care.data, she said: ‘We’ve been told that data has been pseudo anonymised but that means that data can, therefore, be put back for patient identifiable data and can be sold to drug and insurance companies.’

London-based consultant Dr Philip Howard said: ‘People are worried about the potential use of information outside of a purely medical context.

‘People will not want their records to be shared across the NHS if such concerns exist.

‘If it comes out individuals can be traced, it destroys the good aim of having proper anonymised data for research and the planning of healthcare services.

‘All information between doctors and patients should be kept confidential unless it is with the express consent of the patient.

‘There should be no question of data being used outside a medical context for insurance companies or government without the patient’s specific knowledge and agreement.’