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Confidentiality must be better protected, probably by statute
Last year the NHS Management Executive launched an ambitious project to unify health service information systems. Its aim is to set free all the health information currently imprisoned on isolated systems throughout the health service and allow it to travel to wherever decisions are being made. The benefits of sharing information across the health service are undeniable. General practitioners, specialists, and other health professionals will no longer have to conduct consultations without notes or investigation results; purchasers will have the information they need to contract accurately for services; and audit will be easier, quicker, and more streamlined. The strategy could also, however, make it far more difficult than it is now to protect patients' confidentiality and privacy. So far these problems have attracted little attention from most NHS professionals.
A seminar organised by the BMA's information technology working group heard last week that most doctors are not only ignorant of the strategy's implications for privacy but also unaware of the objectives of the strategy itself. A survey done in April this year by the …