Tories: Use Google for the NHS

By Liz Stephens

IT firms like Google should host patient records on the NHS, according to new plans from the Conservatives.

The Tories say they would scrap the government’s plan for a central NHS database of patient records if they won the next general election, which they say would save millions.

The £12 billion NHS database programme has had serious problems since its launch in 2002.

Under the Tories’ proposals, patients would be given a username and password and could update their records online with information like blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said: “We want to give patients the ability to give themselves greater control over their information.”

However, civil rights campaigners and the government have said the Conservative’s plans raise concerns about patient confidentiality.

Two weeks ago former shadow home secretary David Davis launched an attack on his own party over the decision to back the transfer of people’s health records to Google.

Writing in The Times, Mr Davis said: “The policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ.

“If not, what was proposed was both dangerous in its own right, and hazardous to the public acceptability of necessary reforms to the state’s handling of our private information.”

Mr Davis said: “Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me”.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “Giving patients greater access and control over their medical records is an important step forward but the Tories’ proposals do little to alleviate fear over the security of our medical records.

“Today’s announcement does nothing to answer the very serious concerns raised by David Davis. This could amount to a Tory government playing fast and loose with our most personal data by placing it in the hands of private companies without sufficient guarantees on confidentiality.

“We can’t ignore the fact that this type of personal information is very valuable and commercial companies would love to get their hands on it.”

Health minister Ann Keen said: “The Tories need to make it very clear how their plans will ensure patient confidentiality.

“We have already set out our plans to give patients greater access to health information, for example through Healthspace where patients can see their summary care record.”

However Mr O’Brien countered: “If we hold the data locally it’s more likely to be protected.

“Giving patients greater control over their health records is crucial if we are to make the NHS more patient-centred.

“Labour’s attitude to our personal data is misguided. They seem to think they own it and, all too often, they have been appallingly careless in looking after it.”

Google has faced heavy criticism in the past from human rights watchdog Privacy International, which gave the company its lowest possible assessment following a deal with China to limit its citizens’ access to certain internet sites.