NHS sends your confidential patient records to India
The NHS is sending millions of patient records and confidential medical notes to India for processing — despite a pledge by Labour that personal information would not be sent overseas.
It is the first time that databases of names, addresses and NHS numbers of patients have been sent abroad, along with private information about medical appointments.
NHS managers, under pressure to cut costs, are implementing the changes despite warnings about poor security in some offshore centres.
The Sunday Times has identified seven primary care trusts in northeast London, serving more than 1.5m people, that have begun to send patient details overseas. The databases are administered by about 200 workers in Pune, western India.
Although companies handling the records in India said security was “paramount”, there is a risk of patients being identified if the NHS numbers are matched with anonymised clinical notes carrying NHS numbers, already being sent to India by more than 30 trusts.
Typically, a set of clinical notes will be based on a consultant’s findings during a session with a patient, which he will read into a voice recorder during or after the appointment.
The recording is then transferred to a computer and sent to India, where it is transcribed. One source involved in processing the information said patient names can crop up during the appointment and may then inadvertently be included with the clinical data.
Workers in India are also producing letters for patients with appointments for cervical smear tests and breast screenings.
Pilot schemes for NHS offshore transcription services began more than four years ago and have rapidly expanded. The Royal Free hospital in London, the Derby hospitals trust and the Newham University hospital trust are among those sending clinical notes overseas.
Labour ministers have been anxious to allay concerns about the confidentiality of patient information since the launch of a £12 billion scheme to computerise health records.
In January 2007 Caroline Flint, then health minister, told parliament the project would “expressly preclude the transfer of patient information outside the United Kingdom”.
Trusts, however, believe they may send patient information outside the UK if it does not come under the electronic records project.
John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley and an expert on IT projects, said: “Given the government’s track record of losing data in this country, it is worrying that data are being sent overseas. Every transfer of information adds to the risk of it being lost.”
The possible risks of transferring patient data overseas were exposed last year when undercover reporters from ITV1’s Tonight programme were able to buy health records from a private hospital in London, processed in India. The sellers claimed to have access to thousands of UK medical records.
The transfer of primary care trust records is being handled by NHS Shared Business Services, a joint venture between the Department of Health and the IT company Steria.
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