Lord Warner, one in a line of health ministers who was once in charge of the NHS’s National Programme for IT – NPfIT – suggested to the BBC “Today” programme on 18 December 2006 that police will have access to national health records only in court cases.
But Ben Bradshaw the minister now in charge of the NPfIT, says that police will have access to a Secondary Uses Service – which draws on the summary care records database – “where it is in the overriding public interest” and not only in court cases.
Lord Warner was on the Today programme as the government was announcing trials of the national summary care record, a central part of NPfIT. Lord Warner was responding to concerns of Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University’s Computer Laboratory about the centralised health records.
This was part of Lord Warner’s interview with an established Today presenter James Naughtie
Lord Warner: “It’s simply not true that the [summary care records] system is designed to give information to the police for example. It’s a health system which is for the needs of health professionals to help provide care to patients.
James Naughtie: “Just be clear on this point if you would Lord Warner. Can police get access to this system without going through the patient?”
Lord Warner: “In certain circumstances the police now, in particular types of situations where a case is in court, can, and the courts can require, information to be given to the court. It will not change in any way. Police will not be able to have fishing expeditions.”
James Naughtie: “It’s only a matter for the courts?
Lord Warner: “It’s only a matter for the courts in particular cases where the courts require information to be provided for criminal cases.”
But a year later, in December 2007, Ben Bradshaw told Conservative MP Jeremy Warner that data from the Secondary Uses Service will be disclosed to the police “where it is in the overriding public interest”, where “there is statutory authority”, or “where the courts have made an order requiring disclosure”.
Doctors generally welcome plans to make patient records accessible to any clinicians involved in the care and treatment of patients. But ministerial assurances on who will have access to national databases of health records, and in what circumstances, are becoming vaguer with time.