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Medical Records

Volume 974: debated on Sunday 11 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what discussions he is having with the British Medical Association concerning collection of the records of all mothers and children up to five years for inclusion on a central computer; whether he can give assurances that confidentiality is safeguarded; whether he will ensure that no records of mothers and children up to five years are collected for inclusion on a central computer until safeguards regarding confidentiality have been agreed with those concerned; and if he will take steps to destroy any information which has been collected in advance of such agreement.

There is no proposal to collect records of mothers and children on a central national computer.A third part is being developed of a computer system to assist in the health surveillance of children. The first two parts, introduced in 1975, provide a register of children by area health authority, appointments for courses of immunisation and the recording of results. Provision is also made for the recording of information about the child's birth—for example, the birthweight—and any significant medical information that might contra-indicate certain immunisation procedures. The authorities who have adopted these computer procedures use computer facilities at their respective regional health authorities.The development of the third part, known as the pre-school scheme is under the guidance of a NHS committee, the Child Health Computing Committee, whose membership comprises NHS medical, nursing and administration representatives as well as representatives of the British Medical Association, the British Paediatric Association and the Royal College of Ostetricians and Gynaecologists and the Department. The Child Health Computing Committee has agreed procedures for safeguarding the confidentiality of personal medical information held in the system. British Medical Association and British Paediatric Association representatives were members of the subcommittee which formulated these safeguards. Notwithstanding this, it now appears that the BMA has remaining doubts about the acceptability of the safeguards and the Chief Medical Officer has invited the BMA to co-ordinate the views of the medical professional interests and give an assurance that they are satisfied with the arrangements proposed to the chairman of the Child Health Computing Committee—an area medical officer—and the Department before trials of the pre-school scheme are introduced. These cannot begin before the late sum- mer of 1980 and an important aspect of them would be a practical testing of the confidentiality safeguards.