Can the NHS be trusted with your data?

By September 4, 2015EU insight

By Nicolle Laurie, Consultant, London

This week Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, announced plans to allow NHS patients to access their full medical records online by 2018. He first hinted at these plans at the Conservative Party Conference last year and now this is to become a reality.

Hunt wants patients to be able to access their medical records on their smartphone, be able to add comments to their records and upload information from their wearable devices, such as a Fitbit that keeps track of the amount of exercise you have done that day.

The Government is keen to bring the NHS into the 21st century; allowing paramedics access to a patient’s medical information at a touch of a button and giving patients the opportunity to feel in control of their treatment. With broadband set to reach to 95% of homes by 2017, 66% of the population using smartphones and clear Government backing you’d expect universal support from patients and doctors for this clever use of digital technology!

However the announcement has been criticised by GPs, who say they are already overstretched and will not have the time to monitor or process the information that patients upload to their online medical records; effectively making the technological advancement redundant. Patient groups were also quick to point out the risk to patient records – many recalling the debacle. It was also unfortunate timing that Hunt’s speech came on the same day that a sexual health clinic carrying out HIV checks in London mistakenly leaked the details of nearly 800 patients.

Many people are still highly sceptical about the government’s ability to safeguard personal medical information to a standard that prevents it being abused, or accessed by an outside source. There is also a question mark over how these plans will be delivered under the current financial constraints affecting the NHS. On top of which, many wonder how well Hunt will fare having to go head-to-head with the medical profession again, who still harbour deep grievances following his handling of the proposed seven-day NHS.