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Tories claim 'Google health records' are speculation

The possibility that the Conservatives might transfer NHS health records to private sector internet providers such as Google or Microsoft has been dismissed as speculation.

But Tory leader David Cameron raised the possibility of bypassing the “unresponsive national IT system” that “isn’t really working very well”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “For every penny we could save… we could put money into nurses and doctors and patient care.

“I don’t accept the principle that the safest place for information is with the government, because actually, if we think about it, who has lost all our data recently? It was Revenue and Customs, the government. I don’t accept that somehow our data is safe when it is the government that is looking after it.”

A Tory spokesman had previously said that the NHS IT system is being reviewed by experts hired by them, and that they would be reporting back in a “few weeks”. He said: “There is still an independent review ongoing, so it is just speculation at this stage.”

The Times has reported the Conservatives as saying they would replace Labour’s “centrally determined and unresponsive national IT system”, and allow private companies to handle patients’ notes.

Readers' comments (12)

  • i'll take my chances with Google as the problem isnt just that the NHS has an “unresponsive national IT system” its also staffed by people who have been trained to be completely unhelpful bureaucrats as I was timely reminded again this morning when a simple request for a digital copy of snail mail correspondence sent to me by Lewisham PCT received this response :

    Dear Sir

    The information you have requested is an absolute exemption under the FOI act as it relates to personal information about yourself. Please see section 40(1) of the act as attached. Request for personal data is covered under the section 7 of Data Protection Act as a subject access request. Please note that the PCT has 40 days within which to apply with your request.

    Head of Complaints & Freedom of Information
    Lewisham PCT

    I'm sure Google could come up with an algorithm that could process such requests in a more patient focused and helpful human wayway.

    David Cameron , cut these bureaucrats out and you get my vote.

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  • I have some sympathy with the Cameron idea. However, recent experience with BT and with Scottish Power would indicate that private companies can run every bit as incompetent and unhelpful bureaucracies as the NHS!

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  • Well, the reason places like HMRC lose data is because they need portable memory devices to hoik it around the place. Once the NHS has both local - detailed care records - and national - summary care records - in place, this risk will no longer exist.

    The NHS SCR and DCR will prove to be incredibly beneficial to staff and patients alike, with doctors and nurses having access to a higher quality of information where they need it, immediately.

    Compare this to todays shambolic medical records arrangement and the positives are quite clear. NHS staff will look back on this period with shock in 20 years time when they do finally have an integrated system operating.

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  • The Google idea is plausible, but sad, just another step sideways emphasising a formidable inability to see the wood for the trees. There is one simple problem with the NHS NPfIT - total lack of sustained & cohesive leadership from the government, this project needs a senior lead below government with a 5 year remit and a bullet proof framework. Someone like Gerry Robinson et al; a highly practical & talented realist - the post also needs to be contractually indemnified against political interference for this duration (in our dreams). This project is not complicated, just hard work.
    The Project Manager

    PS LPCT has to comply with the law, their letter reflects this, don't shoot the messenger!

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  • BT and Scottish Power were public sector within living memory! But it's not a private/public divide. I work in a central govt agency where just looking at personal data you are not assgned to work on is a dismissable offence. When I was treated in an NHS hospital all and sundry appeared to have access to my notes - except my consultant's secretary so she could not tell me what I wanted to know.
    We have a long way to go in NHS culture before the mantra "The patient is the most important member of the multi disciplinary team" is a real reflection of the respect with which its customers and (tax payers) are held. I'd trust Google more than NHS staff.

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  • Anthony Parsons

    I think Google would do an excellent job but would fight shy of Microsoft as they have lost their way when it comes to anything innovative and have become a consumer of other peoples good ideas. In fact that hasn't really changed much, all their premier sales products wee someone elses once...

    Google may possibly go the way of Microsoft when they produce an operating system that is agile (which it will be) but it will be a change and migration process most won't consider so will never achieve Microsofts pervasiveness. Microsft owns the desktopn BUT not in corporates who want a susatainable infrastructure. Windows XP SP2 is in most corporates who had he good sense not to migrate to Vista, which quie frankly, Windows meets the teletubbies. All the song and dance abouit the 'new' Windows 7 is just a fixed Vista. MAc made the smart move to adopt UNIX as its core operating system which has always been a corporate standard...I suppose I am biased as I use Google-everything including purchasinfg storage which when you factor the total cost of ownership is cheaper than the bloated disks you ccan buy (but have o manage, backup etc.) from PC world...

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  • Bet neither Google or Microsoft would lose them!

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  • Bet neither Google or Microsoft would lose them!

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  • "PS LPCT has to comply with the law, their letter reflects this, don't shoot the messenger!"

    Lewisham PCT was simply asked to provide a digital copy of a document it had already provided a hard copy of , stop making excuses for bureaucrats who have gleefully become a law unto themselves.

    As for the wider question, of course Google is much better at managing personal information than Governments are and I would like to see patients have real time access to their own personal data as well because there might be other ways they can use it .

    On that score, Government has really resisted using IT to democratise as well 'modernise' public services , politicians are addicted to control and cannot be trusted.

    BTW I worked in NHS IT Procurement and witnessed incompetence on a scale that firms like Google simply would not tolerate.

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  • Well it has to be said that Google is very good at developing applications that make our life easier and allow us to integrate with the web. That's a long way from saying they could provide the NHS with a reliable and servicable records system. Whilst the NHS has experienced the evident incompetance of the IT provided by government, getting into bed with a private provider carries it's own inherent risks. I think the problem lies in presuming that one system will serve all our needs. Even the NHS does not work like this. Integration across boundaries by all accounts but keep the strategies implemented locally.

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  • Paul Tovey

    I agree with ANON (1)

    And

    ANTHONY 's points ....

    I think Google can handle the job in confidentiality terms and the NHS and DOH need to learn some serious information democracy which Google have experience with ..

    Google have linked up with Virgin to supply them with space because google servers are reliable and large and Virgin needed a boost, with security . Virgin ISP email boxes were quite small really so that will be altering and will hopefully in the future be less prone to being blocked ...

    The UK NHS IT system needs to stop shaping itself into an island system surrounded by a super fish bowl of thick hard glass... I mean seriously its really hard to speak in fish to the fish inside and bowl-legend has it that they only see themselves mirrored anyway ....

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  • The state is good at regulating , unfortunately its hopeless at self-regulation and should never be trusted in that role as our politicians actions routinely remind us.

    Expenses anyone?

    As for those who are more wary of extending the role of private enterprise in the delivery of public services and ever fearful of empowering private corporations to take control of our data - read people work for the NHS in this case - lets get real here, Google isnt the only private firm out there offering expert indexing , search and data management and storage services on the scale required here . Of course it isnt but unlike Microsoft , say, Google has an established track record of working responsibly and responsively to Government regulation and - very important here - openly embraces a refreshing take on democracy. Its not perfect but at least the concept gets a look in!

    Google's established business model allows customers/end users to own their own data and export it for use with rival services/apps and while I think it makes sense for people to wonder where Google is going with its Chrome OS before handing national data management contracts to the firm ( i.e. will Google have the same attitude to rival platforms as apps ?) I think on balance we can safely assume that Google's long term strategy with its Chrome products is to 'bake ' in choice at entry level through open source if need be to ensure the Mountain View firm retains its competitive edge as Google's real comparative advantage is the sheer human brain power ( not simply machine number crunching capacity ) back at the Googleplex it can bring to real world puzzle/problem solving for itself and others .

    So we need to get over arguments over efficency and security ref national IT systems as Government has already lost them, the fact is Google wouldnt just manage NHS data better it would also very quickly have the best minds and most cutting edge analytical tools on the planet sifting through our data for better ways to understand and predict healthcare issues and outcomes to save human lives.

    So, I think I can safely say that Lewisham PCT is not doing this and that there is a terrible opportunity cost , locally , nationally and globally , to our continuing to bankroll utter incompetence in the public sector just because stifling bureaucracy gives our political masters a greater delusional sense of personal heroism and being in control .

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