DWP designing tool to trawl claimants medical records
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It has emerged that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have already started development of an digital tool that will automatically trawl claimants NHS medical records. Health professionals have raised fears that the doctor patient relationship could be at risk as claimants will be less likely to be completely open about their condition in fear of the DWP using it against them.
This story was first picked up by the tech news site The Register and has since been covered by other news sites.
The Register discovered an online advert asking for developers to help with a designing a proof of concept tool to expose NHS data to the department’s [DWP] systems.
The advert for the proposals state a team in Leeds is building a system “to capture information from citizens and present this to DWP agents”.
A similar scheme for the Home Office ended up being paused after a public backlash following fears that would deter people seeking medical attention at all.
It’s unknown what the legal basis for such a service would be. Currently claimants undergoing a health assessment for benefits such as Universal Credit, sign a form so that the DWP can contact your Health Professionals (HP).
A paper form with a set of questions is then sent or emailed to the HP for them to fill out and return. Current consent does not allow for full unfettered access to your medical file.
The DWP claim that the new system is needed as doctors don’t always explain a claimants “functional capability” and claimants don’t always give the correct information.
Doctors concerned by DWP move
As with the failed Home Office scheme, medics have raised concerns that the DWP’s move will deter their patients seeking help or being open when seeing a doctor.
Speaking to the times Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said:
“GP patient data is vital to ensure our patients receive the best possible care when they access healthcare. We do not hold our patients’ confidential data to help other organisations check their eligibility for welfare, their immigration status or any other function not related to their health and wellbeing.
“We are doctors, whose first interest is the care of our patient: we are not border guards, and we are not benefits assessors.
“The GP-patient relationship is almost unique in healthcare: it is built up over time and on the basis of trust and the understanding that information shared with us will remain confidential. We are very concerned that any proposed process that undermines this will both damage the doctor-patient relationship and deter vulnerable people from seeking medical assistance when they need it.
A DWP spokeswoman told me;
“No information will be accessed without explicit and informed consent and to suggest otherwise would be misleading.
“Some patients are happy to share information, which is why we are able to use their information to help them claim health-related benefits most quickly.
“Anything to make this an easier and quicker experience for claimants would help them, which is why we are simply exploring potential options to improve the current system.”
As someone in the welfare system, I find this move deeply worrying. People should be able to be open with their doctor without having to think; “will the DWP use this against me.”
Assessments carried out by the likes of Atos or Maxima already fail claimants as, you have non medically trained staff making decisions.
Now they want non medically trained staff to read full medical records? That’s just going to make things worse.
Another question is; what happens if a claimant doesn’t give permission for access to their records? I doubt the DWP will just accept that.
Digitisation is just another way of cutting costs without assessing the consequences for claimants. Then again, when have they ever considered the consequences for anyone but themselves.