NHS numbers are for life, not just for children

The suggestion of using NHS numbers to track children in schools and children’s social care has reappeared again, with labour talking about recreating contactpoint (again).

The arguments in favour haven’t changed, simply using 2023 examples rather than 2003 examples, and the arguments against remain.

Using the NHS number to track children means also tracking adults who were once children, because NHS numbers don’t change.

DfE discloses data on children to anyone who wants it (including the school records of every state educated MP younger than 40). Using the NHS number means the security of the NHS number will be dependent  on DfE’s data handling practices (which do not satisfy the NHS rules, to say the least).

Some council will argue that because your school recorded a problem “managing self” at age 4 (“Manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs, including dressing, going to the toilet…”), adult social care should be reduced and incontinence pants used instead; or the crimes someone fell victim to become their fault in court because of the linked school records of every detail of every day they were in school. 

If you argue they should link health records to school records to support children’s education via the consistent identifier, then you equally believe (in special pleading, or) that they should link school records to others to “support young people affected by crime”. Using the NHS number to track ‘opinion-basedpolicing data, or arrest people is a high risk extension of linkage, similar to Tony Blair’s Institute supporting the suggestion that (future) receipt of Universal Credit be dependent upon injecting wegovy (which will also require DWP data to be linked too). 

What gets linked for one reason gets reused by others – health records get linked to “clubcard” spending “for research”, and then pressure to use that data for more things is as “obvious” as the current arguments for more linking and more use. Always more.

The ideas aren’t new; neither are the problems. The only debate is about which victims they are choosing not to care about.

The NHS has spent 25 years getting the NHS number used for direct care. A new government may destroy that in 25 weeks.