Savings or security: is it one or the other for the NHS?

Jeremy Phillips

The BBC reports today on the Conservative promise of huge cost savings for the National Health Service, achieved by scrapping the current plans for a central database of patient records. In place of the intended mega-database the Conservatives offer

* storage of electronic medical notes locally by general medical practitioners and hospitals, with patients having online access to their medical records;
* hosting by Google or Microsoft;
* each patient would have a username and password and could update his or records by adding, for example, information on blood pressure and cholesterol levels;
* a choice for each NHS trust of the computer system it uses.

Predictably the the government has argued that the Conservatives’ plans raise concerns about patient confidentiality.

Datonomy is unhappy both with the present plans and with the alternative. Given the woeful record of the public sector in terms of safeguarding personal data, there’s nothing to suggest that a centralised system would be any more secure per se than a plethora of regional or local databases. And, while the saving of money is always welcome, many categories of patient are likely to find the greater autonomy of self-loaded data, usernames and passwords either beyond them (many of the elderly; sufferers from Alzheimers; the young) or the cause of a greater risk of data breaches where usernames and passwords have to be given to third parties for the purposes of enabling health records to be consulted and updated. Back to the drawing-board?

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