[PRESS RELEASE] Stop this toxic trade in health information; make it all ‘classified when complete’

Responding to revelations about the disgraceful trade in sensitive health information [1], medConfidential today called for all personal health details to be treated as ‘classified when complete’ [2].

Exemptions in the Data Protection Act are not only exploited by unscrupulous traders; some are routinely used by large commercial organisations [3] and public bodies to legitimise the “sharing” and “re-use” of health information.

Despite promises made by Ministers last year following the care.data fiasco and the exposure of the legalised sale of NHS patients’ medical information for “commercial re-use”, changes to the law remain uncommenced [4]. Indeed, the amended definition of legitimate use – “for the promotion of health” – still permits sale to “information intermediaries” and use by pharmaceutical marketers and other commercial interests.

While medConfidential supports, and last year called for [5], criminal sanctions against those who abuse or misuse people’s health information, the threat of harsher punishment for a few ‘bad apples’ will not address the toxic presumption, perpetuated by Government policy, that people’s most sensitive personal details are tradable assets.

Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential [6], said:

“For all its fine words, this last government added no real protection for medical records – its political promises came to nothing.

“To stamp out this toxic trade, politicians must take decisive action and guarantee that all medical reports and data are legally defined as classified. There’s no reason your family’s health details should be treated as any less sensitive than a police witness statement or George Osborne’s lunch order, for that matter.

“Only when medical records are properly protected in law, and people are told everywhere they’re sent, can we truly trust our most sensitive information will be kept confidential.”

Notes for editors

1) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3018659/Privacy-sale-s-health-secrets.html

2) More details in medConfidential’s proposal, ‘A modern Lloyd George Envelope: CLASSIFIED when complete’: https://medconfidential.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2015-02-16-A-modern-Lloyd-George-Envelope.pdf

3) medConfidential drew attention last June to some insurance and financial services companies’ abuse of enforced Subject Access Requests: https://medconfidential.org/2014/is-jeremy-hunt-serious-about-shutting-down-insurers-access-to-your-medical-records/

4) Regulations to the Care Act 2014 failed to be laid before Parliament was dissolved. These Regulations were necessary to define the operation of the Confidentiality Advisory Group that advises on the dissemination of NHS patients’ information, to enable “one strike and you’re out” sanctions for those who misuse data, and to define “the promotion of health” – the over-broad purpose by which patients’ information can be made available for commercial “re-use”.

5)  See Q7 of Oral Evidence to Health Select Committee, on Tuesday 25 February 2014: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/health-committee/handling-of-nhs-patient-data/oral/6788.html

6) medConfidential campaigns for confidentiality and consent in health and social care, seeking to ensure that every flow of data into, across and out of the NHS and care system is consensual, safe and transparent. Founded in January 2013, medConfidential is an independent, non-partisan organisation working with patients and medics, service users and care professionals.

For further information or for immediate or future interview, please contact Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential, on 07974 230 839 or phil@medconfidential.org