Patient records should be given to Microsoft or Google, say Tories

NHS patient records would be outsourced to Microsoft or Google under Tory plans, instead of being held on an expensive, flawed central government database.

The Conservatives, who have close links with Google, argue that developing a database would be unnecessarily expensive, and it would be more beneficial to hold the information on secure systems which already exist, such as Microsoft Healthvault or Google Health.

Patients would be given the choice of storing their records with private companies, although it is not yet clear what would happen to the notes of patients who do not consent.

The Tories estimate that if data were outsourced to sites such as these, the country would save half of the £1.65 billion it spends on IT annually.

Under the plans, which emerged at the weekend, medical staff with appropriate access would log on when necessary, although it does raise issues over security.

David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, has previously singled out the “Electronic Patient Records system” as an example of the government’s wasteful spending.

Winning a contract for medical records would guarantee revenue for Google or Microsoft for years, while it would also help increase the use of their technology in healthcare.

The National Programme for IT, one of the biggest computer contracts in the world, is designed to link more than 30,000 GPs to nearly 300 hospitals.

Parliament’s public accounts committee however warned in January that if the scheme was not showing signs of moving forward by July, hospitals should have the option to ditch the plans.

The new system is designed to provide an online booking system, centralised medical records for 50 million patients, e-prescriptions and fast computer links.

But the MPs’ report found that progress was “very disappointing” with further delays expected. A revised completion target of 2014/15, already four years behind schedule, was “in doubt”, while the report also found the scheme was now costing taxpayers an estimated £12.7 billion.

Health Direct raises one cheer for the proposals. At last- some common sense and recognition that the current project is hopelessly flawed and expensive.

However Microsoft and Google both have bad records for using personal data. The “Opt In” option for patients must be offered and respected.

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