Published: 26/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5824 Page 1

The government's proposed ID cards have grave implications for the provision of healthcare, says Lyn Whitfield

NHS managers have probably not been looking around Whitehall websites for more documents to read, but Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud , which sets out plans for an identity card scheme, is worth tracking down.

Disingenuously, it says the government does not want a 'compulsory'card, by which it means one that everybody will have to carry all the time.What it wants is a 'universal'card.

One for which, in practice, everybody would have to register with fingerprints and iris scans.

It also wants a card based on driving licences and passports that would be used by public and private sectors for checking everything from 'entitlement' to services to operating transport barriers and storing shop loyalty points.So it would be difficult to leave home without it.

The government is fudging on whether NHS patients would need to show their card to get treatment, but the logic of an 'entitlement'card is that they would.

This raises the spectre of NHS staff demanding cards and turning away those without them.

This would, no doubt, be presented as an attack on 'scroungers' in general and 'illegal' immigrants in particular.

But past experience suggests that those most likely to be denied treatment are the confused and the chaotic - the people most in need.

Doctors have also pointed out that linking the identity of patients to treatment is fraught in many areas like contraceptive advice, abortion, drug treatment or mental health.

For these reasons alone, NHS managers should be opposed to the introduction of identity cards.Entitlement Cards and Identity Fraud needs to be widely read and should be actively opposed. l