Doctors' leaders today warned ministers that flaws in the government's Health and Social Care Bill could threaten the confidentiality of patient records.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the BMA, said:
"The government has decided to place its desire for access to information over the need to respect patient confidentiality.
"The Health Bill proposes that a number of bodies – including the Secretary of State for Health, the newly formed Commissioning Board and the NHS Information Centre – should be given the right to obtain and disclose confidential patient information for any number of unspecified purposes.
"There is very little reference to rules on patient confidentiality that would ensure patients are asked before their information is shared or guarantee that the patient's identity will not be revealed. Fears that their data may be shared with others may result in patients withholding important information; this may not only affect their own health but has implications for the wider health service.
"By failing to put in place proper safeguards, the government is potentially removing the control doctors and, most importantly, patients have over their confidential data. This conflicts with government promises that patients will be given greater control over their medical records."
Dr Tony Calland, Chair of the BMA's Medical Ethics Committee said:
"The BMA is extremely concerned by the extent of the proposed powers which would give unprecedented access to patient data.
"We are lobbying the government to ensure that the Bill is changed so that it enshrines the need for explicit patient consent for any disclosure of information, unless the information has been properly anonymised, pseudonymised or there is an overriding public interest. All bodies accessing health records should be bound by a strict and clear code of conduct."
"Patient confidentiality has very much been under threat ever since ATOS took over medical assessments for the DWP. This has led to to the sick and disabled being forced to disclose more than is necessary just to ensure their benefit claims are not stopped or discontinued" - David Calvert, Lancashire