EVERY adult in Wirral is to be unwittingly signed up to a privately-run telephone health advice line by the local Primary Care Trust.
Anyone who received a blue and white postcard through their letter boxes last week mentioning the proposed Wirral Keep Well scheme will now have their private health information stored “in a safe, secure environment” by an American-owned private call centre firm based in Boston, Massachusetts.
To ensure your information is not shared you must write to your GP practice manager telling them you want to opt out within two weeks of receiving the card, it says.
The scheme is also to include a second ‘opt out’ opportunity of NOT sharing your name and phone number with US-firm Health Dialog, which is wholly owned by Bupa.
Leah Fraser, Conservative councillor for Liscard, told the Globe: “This is the first stage of a plan by an American company to obtain as much data as possible about patients in Wirral.
“Contact which is traditionally between a patient and their GP will, increasingly, be replaced by a call to an unknown operator, in a US-based company with access to your private medical records. Given the Govern-ment’s appalling track record of handling sensitive personal data, I’m not hopeful. This development makes it more difficult for patients to control who does, and doesn’t, have access to their personal records.
“This project is loaded with risk and poses a far bigger threat to the patient-GP relationship than the creation of polyclinics.”
Several readers who received the postcards last week contacted the Globe wondering how the PCT had managed to obtain their personal details.
One patient, from Moreton, said: “I’m amazed that this is an ‘opt out’ rather than an ‘opt in’ service. The postcard says people have just a fortnight to opt out from this scheme, but what happens if people are away on holiday? The postcard looks like junk mail. I get the feeling they’re trying to sleepwalk people into signing up to something they don’t necessarily want.”
Another reader, a working mum from Leasowe, said: “Why be so sneaky about it? They’re asking us to share our private details with people over the phone but there is little or no information about why. When I tried to contact the helpline given the people on the other end were very nice but clearly in the dark themselves.”
The Globe also contacted the Wirral Keep Well helpline. When we asked what it was for, the call centre worker said: “To make people on Wirral better.” Then she admitted that she and her colleagues had very little more information to give callers.
The PCT insists that the initial health data it wants to share with Health Dialog would be “unidentifiable” and “cannot be linked directly back to you”.
But the second part of the same postcard then advises people not wanting to share their names and phone numbers to opt out in writing to their GP.
Privacy is also a concern after a number of Government blunders pinnacling in the Inland Revenue lost disks fiasco last year that saw the details of 25 million people misplaced.
The Globe put a number of detailed questions to Wirral PCT, but instead of direct answers we received only a press release extolling the hoped-for virtues of the Wirral Keep Well plan, which they said had been trialled successfully in Norfolk and Surrey.
A spokeswoman said the main basis for the ‘opt out’ approach, which she said was based on Queen’s Counsel advice, is to maximise the number of patients who could benefit from the new service.