New clause 14 - Medical records

Part of Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:15 am on 26th February 2004.

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Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence 9:15 am, 26th February 2004

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths, on what I hope will be our last sitting—we can but hope.

First, I thank the hon. Members for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) for their thanks for the leaflet that I provided. I should say to the latter that it was an information leaflet, and so did not come under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000; if it had, it would have required legal writing on it. That Act will apply when we provide more detailed information.

On Tuesday, I described the pack that was sent out, ''Pension Choices for the Civil Service''. Unfortunately, the two packs that I have with me

are owned by the two civil servants present this morning, so I am afraid the Committee will have to rely on a copy. I shall ensure that, before the matter returns to the Floor of the House, members of this Committee and of the Select Committee have copies of the information.

On the question asked by the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall, the answer is yes, our Defence Medical Services doctors accord with the regulations of the General Medical Council.

I am surprised to see new clauses on medical records. New clause 15 states:

''It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that any claimant to compensation arising from injury or illness attributable to military service shall have full and complete access to his medical records.''

The hon. Member for Aldershot made it clear in his opening remarks that claimants already have that right. There is no need for the new clause because the Data Protection Act 1998 makes it clear that individual service personnel already have a right of access to their complete medical records. That will remain the case, and is not changed in any way by the pension and compensation arrangements that we propose in the Bill.

I draw hon. Members' attention to paragraph 72 of the Select Committee's report and paragraph 17 of the Government's response in Cm 6109. I made it clear during the oral evidence session that if there was any failure in record keeping the responsibility would lie with the Ministry of Defence. I gave that commitment to the House at the Select Committee session on 5 November, and it still stands.

The hon. Member for Aldershot asked about record keeping. Our record keeping was poor in the early 1990s, but it has been improving ever since. We now have accurate records to deal with the medical issues that are raised, and we will have a new computerised system by the end of 2005. We will update our medical record keeping system over the next 18 months. The new system will undoubtedly help and support claims under the compensation scheme arrangements.

We retain medical records for 100 years. The Cabinet recommendation is 72 years, but the MOD retains them for 100 years where necessary. That recognises the importance of medical records and answers questions about whether they should be retained. Looking around the Room at those who have been in our armed forces, I think that 100 years is more than enough.

I am not sure that new clause 14 would add anything to the Bill. I hope that during this short debate on medical records I have made our commitments clear to hon. Members. I cannot deal with the individual cases that the hon. Member for Aldershot has raised; I did not know that I was coming to a constituency advice surgery this morning. If he wants us to examine those cases, we would be more than happy to do so as part of the usual routine of dealing with Members' correspondence.

I hope that, as we have had this short debate on medical records, and as some of the commitments have been made clear to him, the hon. Gentleman will not insist on the two new clauses, as they are unnecessary.