BMA Expresses Concerns about New Data Sharing Powers

February 18th, 2009 by Anya Proops QC

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:

https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmbills/009/2009009.pdf

Guardian Articles:

https://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/feb/14/medical-records-nhs-privacy

https://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/sep/18/health.nhs