Glyn Moody
February 11, 2014

The UK government is currently building a database called that will contain all of England’s medical records. It’s being promoted as providing valuable information for healthcare management and medical researchers that will lead to improved treatment.

Given the extremely sensitive nature of the material that will be stored, you might have expected this to be opt-in, but instead the UK government has chosen to make it opt-out. Not only that, but the relatively sparse information about what was happening was sent in the form of a generic, unaddressed letter that differs little from the dozens of junk mail pieces received by most households each week, and failed to include any easy-to-use opt-out form.

This has fuelled suspicions that the UK government is making it hard to opt out in order to keep the numbers enrolled in the database as high as possible. More recently, good reasons why people might want to avoid the scheme have emerged. For example, it was revealed that as well as being provided to research scientists, the database could also be bought by companies:

Drug and insurance companies will from later this year be able to buy information on patients — including mental health conditions and diseases such as cancer, as well as smoking and drinking habits — once a single English database of medical data has been created.

Now we learn that the UK police will also have access:

The database that will store all of England’s health records has a series of “backdoors” that will allow police and government bodies to access people’s medical data.

As the UK MP David Davis told the Guardian:

“The idea that police will be able to request information from a central database without a warrant totally undermines a long-held belief in the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship,” he said.

That means that as well as the risk of a privacy disaster of unprecedented proportions if the consolidated health data is lost or stolen as a result of being passed to third parties (as has already happened with a similar but smaller database), patients may be less likely to confide in their doctors knowing that details will end up in a database sold to companies and freely available to the police. Nice work, Mr Cameron.

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