Coroners & Justice - is this what it's all about?

I wish there were an emoticon for <slaps forehead with one hand whilst lightbulb goes on over head>. I was pondering Coroners & Justice on the flight home last night, when I realised what the Bill is really all about (although I’m sure I’m not the first). Click through for the answer…

Coroners & Justice isn’t about public service efficiency, enhanced medical research or protecting the public good (although these would all be great things). If that’s what we wanted to do then we’d simply put in place the necessary legal gateways for sharing. No, I reckon that someone in the government believes that Coroners & Justice is part of a strategy to get us out of the recession.

HM Government is the largest data processor in the UK (and with the number of cameras and databases, probably one of the largest in the world). Every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave is recorded in a government database somewhere. The thing that protects our privacy is the fact that these data silos aren’t joined up – partly because of the technical complexity of doing so, and partly because of the legal gateways that would prevent them from doing so. What’s more, the government has legal powers to gather data that would be unthinkable for private organisations – tax, health, education, criminal records.

So imagine how much that data might be worth to private organisations? The likes of Experian and Acxiom already have multi-billion pound business models for aggregating and selling personal information, but they have to restrict their information to that which they can legally process with valid consent and in compliance with a host of regulations. The richness of HM Government’s data resources would be incredible, and despite the credit crunch, there would be deals to be cut with private companies that would want that data. After all, DVLA already sells driver data to clamping companies, so the business model has been proven. Once the Information Sharing Order is signed, health data can be sold to drug companies, criminal records data to security firms and vetting agencies, and the richest possible profile of our lives can be aggregated by the private sector.

The biggest clue is in Part 50A, Power to enable information sharing, which defines an “appropriate Minister” as:

(a) the Secretary of State,

(b) the Treasury, or

(c)   any other Minister in charge of a government department.

Why is the Treasury singled out from all other government departments? What makes Treasury special, other than its responsibility for raising revenues? This seems to support the idea that Coroners & Justice is all about gathering money.

The potential profits to be made would be huge. The legal justification is in the Bill – after all, making revenue money would be both a policy objective and in the public interest. And once passed, everything could be set in motion by the signing of a single Information Sharing Order.

Is that what Coroners & Justice is all about? I hope not, but I’m probably in a somewhat jaded mood and the cynic in me can’t dismiss this idea. Am I being too cynical? I hope so.

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You are right. It's called the knowledge-based economy. It's why the Spine was built. Read the history here (large file): http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/UK_Biobank_fin_1.pdf This is also why science minister Lord Drayson recently told the IUSS Committee and the Foundation for Science and Technology that it should focus its science funding 'strategically' to get out of the recession: on exploiting the information in electronic medical records.
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Uh-oh... Further evidence from the US that selling medical data is seen as a way to raise funds during the recession: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/26/google_watchdog_kerfuffle/
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Thanks to Ian Brown for this - looks like this is definitely proving my theory... --- Below is an excerpt from Gordon Brown's speech last week on science policy (in Oxford). You can see exactly where they're going with this re: the NHS medical databases... http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page18472 Britain and the USA are leading in research on cancer treatment - with more cancer trials here in Britain than anywhere on the planet. In Britain part of that is because of the enormous generosity of the British public in making charity donations. Part of it is the result of the single greatest comparative advantage Britain holds - the NHS. No other country has a publicly owned healthcare system quite like ours. And it offers us the opportunity to be a world leader in medical research - and hence a world leader in life sciences. And with that comes the potential for growth and jobs that will help to rebalance our economy and fund future investments in research. And the new Government Office for Life Science is being set up precisely to ensure we fully realise the potential of this leadership position. Medical science is moving swiftly and already we can begin to see the implications for how - as a society - we will need to manage that. Take - for instance - the analysis of DNA and how that’s evolving. Looking into the future, we must now anticipate developing new cancer medicines that take account of genetic difference stratifying cases - and perhaps populations - by their genomic or DNA make-up and targeting drugs for cohorts with specific characteristics. And to achieve this, medical scientists will need to get permission from patients for access to their DNA records. But already there are signs of people’s readiness to participate. One of Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s current projects has seen 100,000 women in the UK volunteering to take part - including offering blood samples for genomic analysis. And women taking part have been encouraging their children and grandchildren to get involved at the same time so that if ever they too developed Cancer the potential to treat them would be much enhanced. And there is a new direct-to-consumer model developing via the internet - mostly outside the UK - with a number of companies now offering DNA testing or profiling services. And - though experts and practitioners in genetic testing regard it as still a niche market - consumer awareness - and with it interest in such tests - appears to be growing. So it’s clear that the analysis and handling of genomic information is one of the most radical and far-reaching developments in current medical science. So we have to ensure both as Government and as a society that, as the opportunities for people to access genomic information spread, the regulation and boundaries set for the use and control of such data evolve just as rapidly. But it is hard not to see how - with the appropriate safeguards in place the potential of genomic information might prove to be a 21st century moment - a vast expansion of the boundaries of scientific understanding that holds breath-taking possibilities for the future effectiveness of medicine in Britain and across the world.
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