What Privacy Price?

TOWARDS the end of January every residential address in Torbay should have received a leaflet from the NHS titled “Better Information Means Better Care”.

TOWARDS the end of January every residential address in Torbay should have received a leaflet from the NHS titled “Better Information Means Better Care”. However, those leaflets won’t have popped through your letter box nicely tucked-away inside a sealed envelope. No, they were delivered along with other unsolicited mail. And that’s where the problems started in my part of Torbay. And maybe yours too?

Had I not been vaguely aware that an important NHS leaflet was due to be delivered, my leaflet would, almost certainly, have been thrown unceremoniously into our big blue Torbay paper re-cycling bag. Why? Because our NHS leaflet was completely HIDDEN inside a large pizza promotion leaflet, along with other junk mail items that further ensured the NHS leaflet’s invisibility. On that point, I now find myself wondering what your opinion is of junk mail.Environmentally unfriendly perhaps? Of no relevance or interest to youwhatsoever? Just so much waste paper? Yes, those are my views too!

But wait, I digress: the importance of the NHS “Better Information Means Better Care”leaflet mentioned above cannot be under-estimated, so I urge you to read on. On the front page the leaflet states, “This leaflet contains important information about your health records. You, and everyone who lives with you, should read this leaflet carefully. It is important that everyone knows how we share, protect and use information about their health. You have a choice.”

From there, the leaflet goes-on to explain that there are plans afoot to allow your medical records to be viewed by, not only several health care service providers but, more worryingly, by “approved researchers and organisations outside the NHS.”

Quite who those approved researchers and other organisations are, the leaflet doesn’t say. However, in the following paragraph, the leaflet states, “We will use information such as your postcode and NHS number to link your records from these different places [GP practices, hospitals and community services] in a secure system, so your identity is protected.”

Is this all beginning to look just a little bit intrusive to you? At first sight, it did to me as well, and I haven’t changed my mind since. For starters, I asked myself whatever happened to the much invoked Data Protection Act.Then came my two primary concerns. Firstly, there are details on my medical records that I wish to remain strictly private between me and my GP. Secondly, I don’t believe my postcode and NHS number can remain properly protected on any system: computerised or otherwise. Let’s face it recent,high-profile leak stories have confirmed that there’s invariably going to be someone out there who’ll be able to hack into computer software.

So, what can we do to express our concerns? Thankfully, we all have the right to opt-out of this plan but, even here, the NHS leaflet is not very helpful. Indeed, if you do nothing after reading the leaflet, you will automatically be regarded as agreeing to the ‘sharing’ of your medical records outside the NHS in the manner described above.

Here, then, are a couple of tips. First and foremost, if you haven’t yet seen the NHS leaflet titled “Better Information Means Better Care” call 0300 456 3531 and tell them you’d like a copy sent to you by post. If, however, you have seen and read the leaflet in full, and you wish to opt-out of the information sharing scheme it describes, telephone your medical centre and ask for your medical records to be marked as not-to-be-shared. As it says on the leaflet … you have a choice.

Quite apart from all the above: this Pensioners Platform column would like to ask whose idea it was to dispatch such an important NHS leaflet in such a sloppy, hit-and-miss way? Could it be that there was someone out there hoping the ‘unsolicited mail method’ might slip-past, unnoticed by many of us who would otherwise have wished to opt-out? Or was this just an ill-conceived way of trying to save money? Your guess is as good as mine.

If you would like to make contact with me, you can reach me by e-mail atDavidlowecolumn@aol.com or via mail@torbaytimes.co.uk. Alternatively, you can call me on 07901 652645 or Skype at david.l.lowe.

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Torbay Times

The Torbay Times Editors bring our audience the latest in local community news and views from across Torbay.