MPs agree to data-sharing safeguards

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Government safeguards designed to address privacy concerns over NHS England's flagship patient data-sharing scheme have been agreed by the Commons.

Rollout of the care.data programme has been delayed by six months after criticism by Healthwatch England that the public been "left in the dark" over plans to compile the largely anonymised records.

In response, the government introduced protections in the form of amendments to the Care Bill, which was debated for a second day of report stage on 11 March 2014.

The previous night, Health Minister Daniel Poulter told MPs the changes would enhance transparency and ensure patient data could not be used for insurance purposes.

Care information could only be disseminated "for the purposes of the provision of health care or adult social care" and "the promotion of health", he explained.

But Labour MP and Health Committee member Barbara Keeley remained unconvinced and claimed "data could still be released to private health care companies", as the House resumed debate on the proposals.

Ms Keeley backed her front bench's bid, in the form of new clause 25, to make the misuse of medical records an offence, punishable by jail or very significant fines.

Conservative MP and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston, who also sits on the Commons committee, said the threat of more severe penalties was necessary to deter snooping of the new database, warning that existing punishments are "derisory".

"I think what the public need to be clear on is there will be very severe penalties for not only individuals who deliberately breach privacy but also companies," she argued.

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said Labour wanted the database to go ahead and condemned the government for mishandling the preparations.

"The tragedy isn't this will draw political criticism, heated argument or the condemnation of campaigners outside the House of Commons. It is that it risks the project and jeopardises the benefits the project will provide," he said.

Labour's amendment seeking harsher punishments for misuse of data was rejected by a government majority of 69.

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