Monday, 14 January 2008

Health: Fears over security of NHS patients’ data

Jonathan Morgan AM, Assembly Shadow Health Minister has raised concerns following the Western Mail's disclosure last week that a Wales Audit Office specialist was sent on “gardening leave” the day before he was due to start an investigation into allegations that an NHS body called Health Solutions Wales had passed patient identifiable information to research company Dr Foster in possible breach of the Data Protection Act.

Contradictory statements about whether this confidential information relating to Welsh patients has been passed to a private company have led to a demand that Health Minister Edwina Hart should make an urgent statement.

Andrew Hurley, a £54,000-a-year IT specialist, has not returned to work since being sent on leave in October 2005.

Hugh Morgan, Director of Health Solutions Wales, told the Western Mail his body had not released patient identifiable information to Dr Foster. But he added, “Dr Foster does receive the equivalent information from England.”

Mr Morgan’s statement raised questions about whether patient identifiable information had been passed to Dr Foster relating to Welsh residents being treated in English hospitals.

Dr Foster issued a statement confirming that patient identifiable information had been passed to one of its departments by the Assembly Government. The statement said:

Imperial College has a PIAG (Patient Information Advisory Group) clearance to receive data from the Secondary User Service for certain research purposes. Under this clearance, Imperial College is permitted to disclose pseudonymised data to Dr Foster Intelligence.

Dr Foster does not hold patient-identifiable data – it holds pseudonymised patient-level data from English hospital providers which includes some patients resident in Wales.

The Imperial College Unit at Dr Foster were commissioned by the Welsh Assembly to do some research work and obtained PIAG permission to hold patient-identifiable Welsh data for this purpose. Dr Foster Intelligence does not have access to this data.

But the Assembly Government maintained Dr Foster had not been passed information which could enable patients to be identified. A spokesman said:

Neither Health Solution Wales nor Welsh NHS Trusts have released patient identifiable information to Dr Foster. In relation to Welsh patients with English providers, we have no evidence that this information has been released and therefore the Minister cannot comment, but we have initiated an investigation.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health in London said:

There are strict procedures in place to ensure no patient identifiable data is passed from the NHS to Dr Foster. Dr Foster only has access to anonymised data.
Shadow Health Minister Jonathan Morgan, the Conservative AM for Cardiff North, said:
I will be calling for the Minister, Edwina Hart, to make an urgent statement on this matter. After a number of recent scandals, there is widespread public concern about the failure to protect confidential private information relating to individuals. The contradictory statements made on this issue means there must be a clear statement of the actual position.

Patients in Wales have a right to expect that their personal information will be protected by the NHS. If there is any question of passing identifiable information on to a third party, there must be a clear reason for it and people should have an opportunity either to give their consent for disclosure or to withhold permission.

At present the NHS is seeking to introduce a new computer system under which it would be possible for many health professionals to gain access to personal information relating to patients. Most people would probably support that so long as there are robust information-sharing protocols in place to ensure personal details are not disclosed inappropriately. But public confidence has been badly shaken by this series of disclosures. I don’t think there is now an appetite for the Government’s proposed national ID card.

Mr Morgan said he was also concerned the Wales Audit Office had apparently abandoned the inquiry that Mr Hurley had been about to undertake:
Although the WAO says its employee’s suspension was unrelated to the inquiry he was about to start, I find the circumstances highly suspicious. I would have expected the inquiry to be undertaken by another member of the WAO staff.


Anonymous 14 January 2008 at 12:40  

No wonder people are reluctant to pass on information these days.

Whitchurch man 14 January 2008 at 14:40  

Jonathan Morgan has come on in leaps and bounds since winning Cardiff North and taking the health portfolio. He's always been a good performer and this will be the making of him over the next few years.

Anonymous 14 January 2008 at 16:43  

Edwina Hart hasn't been vocal enough as Health Minister. There's a need for someone who enjoys talking to the media

nurse simms 15 January 2008 at 00:17  

very dull story, seemingly trying to jump on the lost info bandwagon of a few weeks ago. So much in the health service to have a shot at, and the best the Tory health spokesman can come up with is a rubbish attempt at maybe some missing info that maybe could be a problem in the wrong hands? If thats a politician coming on in leaps and bounds, god help us.

Miss Wagstaff 15 January 2008 at 00:32  

"Nurse Simms" It is an end of Recess story.

Anonymous 15 January 2008 at 00:41  

Yes, Miss W, a story was needed in the press to get us back into party politics for the new term. We'd almost forgotten about it after the scandal in the Assembly.

Dotcommentator 15 January 2008 at 08:07  

What about the possibility for a rift between Labour and Plaid over this all-Wales Convention on full powers for the Assembly? That's a decent end of recess story.

Miss Wagstaff 15 January 2008 at 08:35  

DC - A very good end of recess story to bring in the political argument of the new term. I made the comment on Peter Black's blog that we need a Convention in order to determine what to do at the AWC.

I'm sure that Peter will oblige by asking the Welsh Lib Dems and Welsh Conservatives to lend a hand. ;)

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