When data sharing ruins lives

Elizabeth Dove (not her real name) contacted me when she found to her dismay that medical information she had given to her GP in confidence had ended up with council workers.

Now Jane Webb has emailed with a similar problem which seems to have no solution.

She writes:

“Local councils play God. I was with an abusive ex and all my records were made available for all to see – details about abuse I had suffered as a child etc which he later used to further abuse me. There is no such thing as patient confidentiality.

“I know parents involved with social services who will not go and seek help for themselves as social services may find out they have been to doctors and use it against them.”

The news last week that social services is applying to take many more children into care after the death of Baby P may not be welcome to people like Jane. If social services want to take a child into care – rightly or wrongly – they will check medical records. And they may use evidence of a mother’s visit to a doctor as evidence of problems in the family.

Which is just as well if there’s an abusive father in the family. But how can an abused mother get medical help if she may lose her child by doing so?

One problem, I suspect, is that social services operate in extraordinary secrecy. As there is little or no accountability for decisions taken, common sense may not always prevail.

On the one occasion when I contacted social services [in Gloucestershire] for an interview, I was surprised at the strength of its hostility to the media.

Data sharing could catch an Ian Huntley in time. It could help to prevent a Victoria Climbie or Baby P.

Done irresponsibly – and it can easily be done with the delicacy of a sledgehammer – it can ruin the lives of those innocently caught up in the system.

I sympathise with Jane. And I don’t know the answer.


Patient dismay as her medical data is shared with council – IT Projects blog

Anger as NHS shares confidential health records with council – Computer Weekly

Data sharing review – Ministry of Justice

The injustice of data sharing – Toby Stevens, Data Trust blog

Regrets, they’ve had a few – Modern Liberty blog

Healthcare professionals call on government to rethink data sharing plans – Zamp bionews

Catalogue of liberties lost – Al Jahom’s Final Word