Digital Privacy

Summary Health Care records: failing and dangerous

The independent Summary Care Record (SCR) evaluation report show the project to be failing in its core aim, to make people safer, while introducing new dangers to their privacy and dignity.

Although the evaluation barely scratches the surface of the urgent problem of patient confidentiality, the authors recognise that the SCR has generated considerable privacy issues. In a section entitled “Who owns medical records – particularly when things go wrong?” the authors accept that:

The SCR programme… has created new ambiguities about who now ‘owns’ patients’ medical records, who is responsible for assuring the quality and confidentiality of the data on those records and in what circumstances consent should be asked for sharing these data.

Until this situation is resolved, patients are exposed to the very real risk that their extremely sensitive medical information will be misused. It is unacceptable for government IT projects which touch every UK citizen to proceed with such risks.

It is surely unacceptable to create a massive threat to privacy through creating an almost entirely pointless silo of patient medical records. On this the report is clear: the medical benefits are few and far between. The SCR seeks to solve a problem which barely exists. As the report says there are “few if any cases in which the presence of the SCR made care safer, or where the absence of the SCR appeared to make care unsafe.”

This report’s conclusions cannot serve to justify vast sums of public money being spent on a project that clearly does not deliver the benefits it promised. The onus must now be on Connecting for Health to demonstrate that this was the best way public money could have been spent on patient care.

The review of the Summary Care record announced by health minister Simon Burns has the opportunity, if it so chooses, to finally address these issues. The government must make sure that every patient’s right to dignity and privacy is respected, as well as avoid throwing good money after bad. The obvious step to take is to scrap the scheme as ill-conceived, of limited value and dangerous.