By Tony Collins
It’s called the NHS database but the new “giant” medical records system is to be run by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, largely for the benefit of researchers.
Though it may help patients in the longer term, say by helping to identify what treatments work and don’t, it is arguably not the NHS’s most immediate IT priority.
I said on BBC R4’s Today programme this morning that a top NHS IT priority is providing secure links to health records so that patients with acute and chronic illnesses can be treated in one part of the NHS one week and another part of the health service the following week – perhaps in a different county – and have their updated records accessible wherever they go.
At present patients with multiple problems can end up being treated in different NHS or non-NHS centres without each organisation knowing what the other is doing. This is dangerous for patients and gives the impression the NHS is technologically backwards.
Links can be made to existing medical records – there are millions of electronic records already in the NHS – without creating a big central database. The records can reside where they are at the moment, inside and outside the NHS, and be linked to securely by clinicians and nurses, subject to the patient’s specific consent.
Indeed patients should be able to look at their record online and correct any mistakes.
My comment on BBC R4 Today that a research database is a good idea has brought a mixed response – understandably, because are risks. We need some facts from the Health and Social Care Information Centre on who is going to run the database, and how information will be made genuinely anonymous.
The HSCIC concedes in its information material that some patient information on the database will be potentially identifiable, but it implies this is acceptable if the organisations using the data can be trusted.
Why must information be potentially identifiable? And to what extent can the HSCIC be trusted to run the database? It is, after all, managing contracts under the National Programme for IT, a scheme which Jeremy Hunt called a “huge disaster”.
How much extra will be paid to BT which runs the SUS database under the “dismantled” NPfIT? It is likely that BT’s Spine and SUS-related work will link into the new “NHS database”. Have any new contracts gone to open competitive tender?