The British Medical Association (BMA) believes the plans by the Department of Health and the National Health Service to create a national database of patient summary care records is a serious privacy breach.
Although individual privacy is important and anyone developing a far reaching database should be placed under extreme scrutiny, it is also the case that these databases are essential to the modernisation of the NHS.
Historians may look back on the late 20th and the early 21st Century and call it the age of the database. These bedrocks of a CIO's world are also the foundations of our lives. The Tesco and Sainsbury loyalty cards and related databases are critical to the business models not only of the supermarkets, but also their suppliers. Online banking, sports betting, TV licences and car safety tests are all driven by databases. Therefore if we want world class public services then we have to embrace new technology and new business processes. I'm sure there are risks that the medical minds of the BMA and CIOs can see and these need to be mitigated. But electronic summary care records are also a reflection of our modern world, one that is increasingly mobile.
Although I have little complaint about the current NHS system of having a registered doctor in your home town, and I am a great believer in using and being involved in the services of your community, in today's environment it is important to have an element of flexibility. CIOs for example, are constantly travelling between branch offices, suppliers and rarely seem to work near home. Should one get ill in central London, but live in Yorkshire or Oxfordshire it could be vital that the NHS has instant access to their records.
Having read a compelling argument a year or two back, I see a lot of value in the idea of the electronic health records belonging to and being the responsibility of the individual, with the NHS acting as the service provider to manage and maintain the records. Banks after all take care of our money as a service provider.
Reading recent reports about the development of electronic patient records in sister title Computerworld UK and the Guardian, it does seem that the NHS is using an implied consent sledgehammer to crack the acorn. Take a look at how the book publishing world has rebelled against the Google book scanning project to see how implied consent gets people's backs up.
Finally, we need to convince the public and organisations like the BMA that IT is just as secure as paper records, when surrounded by the right policies and technology. If you think paper is secure, go back to age before computers and read Bleak House. Charles Dickens, on whose house the BMA HQ is built, would no doubt back electronic summary care records.
With the next government highly likely to make drastic funding cuts to the NHS, now is the time to embrace how technology can improve processes, customer experience and cut costs.