BMA Expresses Concerns about New Data Sharing Powers

The Coroners and Justice Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 14 January 2009. Clause 152 of the Bill provides for the Data Protection Act 1998 to be amended to include a number of new provisions on data sharing. Those provisions include a section which creates a broad general power enabling any ‘designated authority’ to make an ‘information sharing order’, which is to say an order which enables ‘any person to share information which consists of or includes personal data’ (new section 50A(1)). The relevant designated authorities’ are ‘appropriate Ministers’ (i.e. Secretaries of State, the Treasury and Ministers in charge of government departments); Scottish Ministers; Welsh Ministers and a Northern Ireland Department (new section 50A(2)). Whilst these broad powers are subject to a number of limitations including those provided for under new sections 50C, 50A(4) and 50A(6), this has not prevented concerns being expressed as to the potential risks entailed upon these new provisions. Most recently, in an interview with the Guardian (14 February 2009), the British Medical Association’s Chairman, Hamish Meldrum, confirmed that he was ‘extremely concerned’ about these new data sharing powers, not least because they would potentially enable Ministers to allow patient data to be shared not merely within the NHS but also with other ministries and even private companies. Mr Meldrum said that the trust between doctors and patients would be destroyed if the Bill became law as it stands. The new powers embodied in clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill follow in the wake of the development of another significant and controversial data sharing scheme under which the medical records of everyone in England are to be uploaded onto a national database, known as the Spine.

The Bill:

Guardian Articles:

Coroners and Justice Bill

The Coroners and Justice Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on 14th January 2009 and will have its Second Reading on 26th January 2009.

The title sounds remote from information law; but Part 8 of the Bill contains some  important proposed amendments to the Data Protection Act 1998. 

In the first place, there are provisions giving the Information Commissioner new inspection and audit powers in relation to government departments and certain other public bodies, in order to assess their compliance with the Data Protection Act.  These appear to be a response to the well-publicised series of public sector data losses over the last year or so.

More controversially, the Bill makes provision for information-sharing orders, designed to facilitate the use of personal information for purposes other than those for which it was originally obtained.  Data sharing is a subject of long-standing debate (especially within the public sector);   it was recently considered in the Wolpert/Thomas data sharing review.  The Bill is intended to bring greater clarity to this area.   The proposals have however drawn a hostile response from some civil liberties groups concerned with personal privacy. 

For the full text of the Bill as introduced, see:

For a Ministry of Justice paper explaining the various powers to make delegated legislation that are contained in the Bill, see:

For the Wolpert/Thomas review, see:

For criticism of the proposals, see: