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We must convince the public that researchers need access to medical records

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 17 July 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3853
  1. Ara Darzi, director, Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London, St Mary’s Hospital, London W2 1NY, UK
  1. a.darzi{at}

Current English law conspires against medical researchers, writes Ara Darzi. After the failure of, the greatest challenge is to show patients why they should support moves to make sharing their records easier

Bruce Keogh, the NHS’s medical director, told a conference organised by the King’s Fund think tank in June that patients were dying because their medical records were not being linked. What use is it if, say, the GP knows that a patient is diabetic but the ambulance rushing him or her to hospital does not? Yet this is how most NHS records are currently organised—in silos.

Confidentiality is, of course, a vital principle of the doctor-patient relationship—but it can also cause significant harm. No NHS policy explicitly forbids the sharing of records, but staff are reluctant because the confidentiality of those records is protected by law, under the Data Protection Act. This has made people too cautious, says Fiona Caldicott: “Good sharing of information is as important as maintaining confidentiality,” she noted in her 2013 review of information governance,1 the follow-up to the 1997 Caldicott report.

This …

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