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With this it will be convenient to discuss new schedule 1—Supply of medical records—
1 The Data Protection Act 1998 is amended as follows.
2 In section 7, after subsection (11), insert—
“(12) Where the request under this section is, and is stated in the request to be, for the purpose of investigating a claim, or application for payment, arising from the development of diffuse mesothelioma by the data subject, the prescribed period shall be 14 days.’.
I hope we can dispose of this quickly with what I have to say. However, I cannot anticipate what the Minister will say in response. We are looking for assurances.
The clause would amend section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 so that where a request under that section is for the purpose of investigating a claim arising out of the development by the data subject of acute diffuse mesothelioma, the prescribed period shall be 14 days. Currently to make a claim for compensation a victim will also need to produce medical records. We have already discussed the need for employment records and the need to put pressure on HMRC to obtain those. Under the current data protection legislation, agencies have 40 days in which to respond to such requests.
The period of 40 days may be there for reason. These are records that may be ages old, archived who knows where, covered in dust. Does she not think that 14 days is very ambitious and that it would be better for the records to be provided as quickly as possibly but not within a 14-day period as a matter of statute?
I would be concerned with “as quickly as possible”, which is a very imprecise and elastic term. I would not be at all surprised to discover that it was considerably longer than 40 days in the minds of those who might hold those records. I would certainly prefer to see a period properly specified. I assume that when the Data Protection Act was passed in Parliament, exactly that sort of concern was raised and 40 days was considered to be perfectly acceptable.
The issue with mesothelioma claims, as we have said repeatedly, is that the progress of the disease is very fast and invariably fatal. We should seek to do anything we can to minimise the waiting time and the stress that victims and their families will experience in seeking to get together the material that they need to see whether they have a valid civil claim or, if not, to access this scheme. I hope that the Minister can give some assurances about speeding up the obtaining of records; 40 days is far too long for such sufferers. I look forward to hearing his comments on that and to his acceptance, if possible, of new clause 2.
I will not be able to accept new clause 2 but I can tell the shadow Minister that progress has already been made without amending the Bill. We are very aware that rapid access to medical records is needed, even though, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham pointed out, some of them may be quite difficult to get hold of. The Department of Health recently issued guidelines to medical practitioners that medical records for those who are suffering from this terrible disease should be released within 21 days. They have also been advised that sufferers of this disease should be prioritised on the provision of records.
DWP officials are already exploring with colleagues in the Department of Health, and have meetings planned for very early January, whether we can expand on that. Work is being done as we speak. It will be 21 days at the latest. While we understand that in certain circumstances it might take longer, I do not think there is any excuse for it being delayed by the Data Protection Act. That is why we have made that recommendation. The Department of Health is fully with us on that and is already issuing guidance.
I am encouraged by what the Minister says about the progress that has been made with the Department of Health. Perhaps the first annual report that we are looking forward to receiving in Parliament in a year’s time could reassure us about what has been achieved here. The progress that the Minister alludes to is extremely welcome. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.