£1bn to advance controversial NHS patient records database

A controversial government plan to create a vast database containing patients' records and medical details is set to be advanced by a £1 billion technology fund, it has been announced.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has argued that the sharing of private details is needed in order to cut down on the large amount of paperwork doctors and nurses are required to fill out and so help reduce the strain on NHS departments.

However privacy campaigners and experts have argued that patient fear of having everything they tell a doctor potentially accessible by third parties could hamper the care they receive.

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, told the Guardian that the "government is not thinking it through", adding that when a similar trial was carried out in Oxford, "low-income mothers refused to talk to GPs about postnatal depression because they were worried that it would get back to social services."

In July, it was revealed that the NHS wants to reduce the cost to researchers who wish to access patient's medical data to just £1. Currently, it costs around £30,000.

The £1 billion in funding will be used to build new computer systems to enable hospitals, GPs', doctors and social workers to easily access and share patients' records electronically. Hunt said this means healthcare professionals "will be able to give [patients] personal and effective treatment with full knowledge of their care history".

"The public are rightly sceptical about NHS IT after the failures of the past. But we can't let past failures hold patients back from seeing the benefits of the technology revolution that is transforming services all around us," said Hunt.

"Technology is key to helping our A&E staff meet the massive demand they face as the population increases and ages. This is something on which the government must and will succeed."

Image credit: Flickr (Ted Eytan)