Clause 48 - Special protection for personal records

Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 10th January 2006.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

The title of the clause is ''Special protection for personal records''. My understanding is that patient identifiable records would be disclosed only on receipt of a court order. I seek the Minister's assurance that that is correct. I think that she gave such an assurance in her initial remarks. The purpose in my discussing the clause briefly is to seek her confirmation that she shares that understanding of the matter.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State (Quality and Patient Safety), Department of Health 6:15 pm, 10th January 2006

It is useful to have the opportunity to clarify things. This is so important that it bears repetition—just the once, hon. Members will be pleased to learn. There may be circumstances in which information from personal records obtained under these powers will enable a person to be identified either from that piece of information or if it is combined with other information. In such cases, I acknowledge that special care has to be taken.

Where the information is disclosed for the purposes of any court or disciplinary proceedings, the person disclosing it must take steps to ensure that unless there is a court order the information is not disclosed to any member of the public. However, a party to legal proceedings may apply to the court for the information to be used as evidence in a case. Such a party would have to apply to the court and it would be a decision for the court. The court may agree to this, but to safeguard the identity of the individual, because there is the risk of identification, it may require all or some of the proceedings of that court case to be held in   private. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman a bit more clarity on the point.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

To be sure about things, may I inquire about two points. The first relates to the inclusion of the words a ''member of the public''. Surely the point is not so much that information should not be disclosed to any member of the public but, from an individual's point of view, that it should not be disclosed to any person for whom it is not essential to the court proceedings. I am unsure what a ''member of the public'' means in this context. Does it mean anyone who is not related to the court proceedings in any way, including NHS staff for example?

I may have missed the answer to my second point, but this seems to be the appropriate point at which to ask the question. Where information from somebody's personal records is produced in connection with such a case, where are the obligations on the counter-fraud service to ensure that it is aware of that? Will it be unaware of that or will there be some provision to ensure that it is aware that the information is being used, and aware of to whom it is being disclosed and for what purposes?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State (Quality and Patient Safety), Department of Health

The hon. Gentleman asks me to define more clearly what we mean by ''the public''. I want to reflect on the points that have been made because I want things to be right. We mean those not engaged in the case. The information will be anonymised, as I was describing earlier. I am unsure whether he was present then. The information will be anonymised and only that which is absolutely relevant and necessary for the case to be demonstrated will be disclosed.

We are creating a criminal offence of misuse of the information, so that when the officers of the counter-fraud service have the information, there will be a heavy duty on them to ensure that it is dealt with properly and only disclosed appropriately. We are concerned with giving special protection for those who might be identified even if the information is anonymised. We are saying to those involved in prosecuting and hearing cases that they have a duty on disclosure, even if we are talking about anonymous information put together with other information. We think of somebody not directly involved with the case—a court reporter or a journalist in particular—but the provision refers to any member of the public. It is right that we should give the utmost, stringent protection possible in relation to the information. If it is possible that someone will be identified, that is the responsibility of those managing and hearing the case. The court will be invited to consider the circumstances in which the evidence should be presented, with the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has just raised specifically in mind. I hope that that answer gives him the reassurance he seeks. I will reflect on the points raised in order to reassure myself that we have got this absolutely right. I think that we have, but I will consider those points to be absolutely sure.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.