Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Letter from the General Medical Council (GMC)

  You are seeking evidence principally from bodies which are already involved in maintaining, developing or using databases. Clearly the GMC is not engaged in such work.

  We have considerable interest, however, in the issues raised in questions 3 and 4 of your call for evidence which concern patients' privacy and rights to decide whether identifiable information about them may be used, stored and disclosed.

  We have recently published new guidance on confidentiality (Confidentiality: Protecting and Providing Information, August 2000) which in the annexed paragraphs addresses some of these difficult questions in relation to databases used for public health surveillance (see paragraphs 22 to 27). You will see that we recognise the contribution such databases make to the public health, but we also believe that patients should be asked to give consent to the use of personal, identifiable information about themselves. We regard providing information and obtaining consent as essential to relationships of trust between doctors and patients. Obtaining consent is always important, but it will be vital in relation to sensitive information, such as DNA profiles, that patients are fully informed about the nature of the information about themselves which is to be stored, the purposes for which it may be used, and to whom it will be accessible, before being asked to consent to the inclusion of data about themselves on a database.

  I hope that this information about our guidance is helpful to the Committee.

Jane O'Brien
Head of Standards Section

6 October 2000

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