Intended for healthcare professionals


Patient privacy and confidentiality

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 05 April 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:725

The debate goes on; the issues are complex, but a consensus is emerging

  1. Jim Chalmers, consultant in public health medicine (,
  2. Rod Muir, consultant in public health medicine (
  1. Information and Statistics Division, NHSScotland, Edinburgh EH5 3SQ

    The NHS is engaged in a debate about what can and cannot be done legitimately with patients' data. On one hand, anxieties exist about who should have access to the data and for what purposes; on the other hand, requirements for more accountability, performance assessment, effective health protection, and efficient administration are increasing the need for more and better information. How is this being addressed, and how can it be resolved?

    Health services have belatedly realised that they have work to do in order to comply with modern legislation about data protection and recent professional guidance.1 In England and Wales a new Health and Social Care Act has been passed, leading to the establishment of the Patient Information Advisory Group, and the NHS Information Authority has just completed a public consultation on the privacy of patients. 2 3 In Scotland the Confidentiality and Security Advisory Group for Scotland has, after 18 months' deliberation, recommended major changes in practice, although these do not include new legislation for Scotland.4 Other countries are also wrestling with similar issues and there …

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