A government minister has said that data on a central database of millions of confidential health records will be made available to police where there is an "overriding public interest".
Ben Bradshaw, the minister in charge of the NHS's £12.4bn National Programme for IT, has said that police will have access to data on the Secondary Uses Service (SUS) database where "it is in the overriding public interest", there is statutory authority, or the courts have made an order requiring disclosure.
He made the disclosure in answer to a parliamentary question by Conservative MP Jeremy Wright.
Bradshaw did not define what was meant by the phrase "overriding public interest".
Some GPs are concerned that allowing police access to the national electronic database of patient records information is a step towards allowing access to other public authorities - such as social services - and later on to private organisations, including employers and insurance companies.
The SUS database is to be supported by a database of millions of patient records. The database will draw from local detailed care records of patients and 50 million summary care records.
The SUS system has technical design features that allow data from different sources relating to the same person to be linked. The data is "pseudonymised", which means that records are made anonymous to healthcare researchers, but the names and personal details of patients can be easily linked to individual records if police and other government authorities require it.