BCS And Tories Back Off From Putting Health Data In Cloud

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The British Computer Society has denied involvement with a Conservative suggestion to outsource NHS data to the cloud. The report’s author also downplayed the idea

The British Computer Society (BCS) has distanced itself from a policy review that suggests a Tory government might move health records to third parties, like Google or Microsoft. The rerport’s author also downplayed the idea.

In a statement, the BCS said it had been mistakenly cited (by the Times) as undertaking a Review of the NHS IT Programme on behalf of the Conservative Party. In fact, the Party’s Review of the NHS IT Programme is chaired by BCS member Dr Glyn Hayes, an independent health informatics consultant, acting in a private capacity. .

“Although Dr Hayes is a member of BCS, he is acting in an individual consultative capacity in a similar manner to that of many of our 70,000 members across the globe,” the BCS said.

The Times reported that the Tory plans would allow National Health Service (NHS) patients the option of having their medical notes hosted by private companies, as an alternative to Labour’s “centrally determined and unresponsive national IT system”.

But the proposals have drawn criticisms for the issues of privacy and security such systems would raise, with MPs and health professionals warning they could hamper health professional access to records in an emergency, as well as raising public concern about the safety and governance of the data.

Liam Maxwell, conservative councillor and author of the Centre for Policy Studies report, “It’s ours: why we, not government, must own our data,” said the reports had overblown the idea of involving the likes of Google and Microsoft in any potential citizen data Tory proposals to do with health records or otherwise.

“My paper suggested using ‘things like Google Health,’ without actually using them explicitly, and the Times report missed a lot of the detail,” he told eWEEK Europe. “But it understands that it is not the technology, but the political philosophy of being able to own your data that is at issue here.”

The BCS seemed in broad agreement with Maxwell’s comments, saying it also believed there was a need for “culture change in the handling of all personal data.”

David Clarke, BCS chief executive said: “In the future, much of our lives will be recorded online or digitally – including health records. With this innovation comes a need to protect and empower the individual to take control of this information while still enabling them to make the most of opportunities and services in the information society.”

It said its recently launched Personal Data Guardianship Code outlined principles that should be used to create systems that protect the rights of citizens.

“In the case of sensitive information such as health records, the potential damage to individuals is significantly greater if robust systems and processes are not in place,” it stated.

But the society added it believed that all public or private organisations should seek explicit consent for personal information to be used or shared for purposes other than as originally stated. “All this needs to be achieved in the context of balancing patients’ need for control and doctors’ requirements,” it added.

“The common sense guidelines we have suggested and which have been endorsed by the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office], identify the principles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the collection, management and use of personal data. Governments may change, but the importance of keeping our records, accurate, confidential and secure will only grow as we access more and more services and products online.”