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Health professionals call for Justice Bill exemption

Professionals from eight healthcare organisations have joined the call for medical records to be left out of proposed legislation to increase government data-sharing powers.

Healthcare professions have called for medical records to be exempt from legislation intended to increase the government's powers for accessing and sharing UK citizens' personal data.

In an open joint letter, eight organisations - including the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Surgeons, and the Royal College of Nursing - raised their concerns with Justice Secretary Jack Straw about proposals in the Coroners and Justice Bill.

The letter expressed "grave concerns" about Clause 152 of the bill which, in its current form, appears to grant the government unprecedented powers to access people's confidential medical records and share them with third parties.

The organisations warned that this would "undermine the presumption of confidentiality, corrode trust in the doctor-patient relationship and could have a disastrous impact on both the health of individuals and the public".

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA Council, stated: "The doctor-patient relationship is based on trust. If patients cannot be 100 per cent sure that their records are confidential, they will inevitably be reluctant to share vital information with their doctor."

Meldrum did add, however, that Straw has indicated he might be willing to amend the legislation to protect a person's right to confidentiality.

"We welcome the fact that he is taking people's concerns on board, and hope he will provide assurances that confidential health information will be exempt," he said.

The letter, which requests a meeting with Straw, also raised concerns about the potential impact on broader health policy issues that could undermine public confidence in the National Health Service (NHS) Care Records Service.

It pointed out that, as currently drafted, there was nothing in the bill to prevent the government overturning the confidentiality clauses of the Human Fertility and Embryology Act or even of the Venereal Disease Regulations.

"In our view, the proposals will also be in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)," stated the letter.

These organisations have joined the growing chorus of objections to the data sharing implications of the bill, which have been led by the Information Commissioner's Office.

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