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NHS records to be sold to private companies

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The NHS is set to sell off patient records to the likes of insurance and pharmaceutical companies. In what will come as deeply disturbing news to anyone with the slightest interest in privacy, the new centralised NHS database will be selling our medical histories.

As the privatisation of public services moves into new territory with private police forces and now the monetisation of our medical histories, drug and insurance companies will be able to access everything from mental health histories to lifestyle habits like drinking. And they will presumably then use that information against us and as a means of maximising profit or why would they invest in it.

The centralised ‘one stop shop’ for NHS records has been in the pipeline for years and suffered from a variety of setbacks and IT disasters. However it now looks set to launch in March. Supporters of giving private firms access to our data claim that allowing organisations like university laboratories and drug companies will allow swifter analysis of patterns and potentially save lives. But patients have no way of opting either in or out, they will have no control over who can access their information and their records will not be wholly anonymous but come complete with NHS numbers, date of birth, postcode, ethnicity and gender.

Mark Davies, the centre's public assurance director admitted "You may be able to identify people if you had a lot of data. It depends on how people will use the data once they have it. But I think it is a small, theoretical risk," he said.

Davies, who is a GP, defended the database, saying there was "an absolute commitment to transparency", while rejecting calls for an "independent review and scrutiny of requests for access to data". "

Phil Booth, co-ordinator at patient pressure group medConfidential, told The Guardian: "One of people's commonest concerns about their medical records is that they'll be used for commercial purposes, or mean they are discriminated against by insurers or in the workplace.

"Rather than prevent this, the care.data scheme is deliberately designed so that 'pseudonymised' data – information that can be re-identified by anyone who already holds information about you – can be passed on to 'customers' of the information centre, with no independent scrutiny and without even notifying patients. It's a disaster just waiting to happen."

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