Helen Wilkinson

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:55 pm on 16 June 2005.

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Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman (Also PPS To the Chairman of the Party), Work & Pensions & Welfare Reform 5:55, 16 June 2005

I see the Minister nodding, which indicates that she will write to me if she has to do so.

Will there be the computer facility to withhold part of an individual's record from NCRS, as I have seen it argued that there will be no such facility? What trials, if any, of the envelope software in clinical settings have taken place, and what did they find? In his letter to me, the right hon. Member for Barrow and Furness said that in certain circumstances, health professionals will be able to break the envelope seal. He wrote that

"this action can only be justified in specific circumstances, is audited and can be notified to the patient".

Who, therefore, will decide whether the patient is notified, and how?

In his letter to me, the right hon. Member for Barrow and Furness said that, in some cases,

"care professionals can themselves create a legitimate relationship".

Under what circumstances precisely can they do so? Is my constituent correct in asserting to me that third parties will be able to access a patient's data without that patient having the right to know whether third parties have accessed their data and whom those third parties were? The story that I sketched out at the beginning was an illustration of the claim that my constituent has made to me.

What assessment will the Department make of the effect on the nation's health of significant numbers of people, potentially, withholding important information from their doctors or from other health professionals because of concerns about confidentiality? What assessment will it make of the possibility of hackers altering data held on the NCRS and falsifying medical or other records? Will the NCRS and the proposed identity cards database be linked and, if so, under what circumstances is it proposed that the police or other agencies will have access to the records held on NCRS? Finally, what assessment of the clinical need for an NCRS has the Department made?

In conclusion, I recognise that serious issues about patient confidentiality and privacy arise under the current part-computer, part-pen-and-ink system, so the concerns that I raise are not entirely new. I acknowledge that a national computer system might, in some circumstances, help treat patients quickly who would otherwise not be treated so quickly. I realise that Governments of any colour have a difficult task in striking the right balance between, say, developing patient treatment on the one hand and protecting patient privacy on the other. Above all, I concede that new technology itself throws up new challenges to confidentiality and privacy.

I remain concerned that there are, in respect of the NCRS and as my hon. Friend the shadow health Secretary said, "serious unresolved issues" on patient confidentiality. I have tried to raise some of those issues in the context of the story, which is still unfolding, of my constituent, Helen Wilkinson.