[This was written and published on the 17th March 2020. Our briefing for the Commons stages of the Coronavirus Bill was published on the 20th]
The notion of a public health emergency has always been within the scope of discussions around data and confidentiality in the NHS and health data. Overall, the responses of the NHS across the UK, Public Health England and its counterparts in the Devolved Administrations, and Her Majesty’s Government have been within and along the lines of pre-considered contingency plans they were able to take off the shelf, which matched those discussions.
In that respect – and while medConfidential will maintain a watching brief, from a discreet distance – we don’t expect there should be any major concerns regarding the use of patients’ data as long as HMG and its agencies follow scientific advice. Should that change, or as new information becomes public, we will take a view at that time (for example, the legislation text has not yet been published)
We expect there to be a full Public Inquiry into lessons learnt after the current crisis is over – even in the best case scenarios, the effects are already too large for there not to be such an inquiry.
medConfidential will keep non-urgent suggestions until our submission to that Inquiry, by which time the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advice and models will all have been published (as per HMG contingency planning). It may be helpful for the Government to indicate at what point in the pandemic they anticipate the selection of the Inquiry chair to commence.
Even in the best case this situation is going to last months, and many possible actions could be taken. However, the human rights and civil liberties of the entire nation should not be abandoned in favour of fear or xenophobia against anyone whose virus threshold is unknown – nor to introduce a state of permanent data monitoring that will, even at its most intrusive, fail to suppress people’s fears. Decades of discrimination around HIV have taught us the dangers that arise when mob mentality demands proof of a negative from whomever they choose to ask.
In closing, we want to express our gratitude and admiration for each person working in the NHS for their efforts in the current pandemic. Thank you all.