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Saturday 1 October 2016
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Health Bill allows private sector to 'hide' patient data

The private sector could choose to "hide behind commercial confidentiality" and refuse to open their books in the event of a crisis, the Chair of the RCGP has warned.

Dr Clare Gerada told MiP she feared the diminished role of the Secretary of State for Health under the proposed health reforms would allow private providers to be deliberately evasive in sharing information.

"Under the Health Bill and in the event of bad care, the Secretary of State will only be able to implore private providers to intervene and put things right on moral grounds," she said.

"This is simply not acceptable. All they need to say is that it is not of the Secretary of State's business and refuse to open their books."

Currently, Dr Gerada believes the role of the private sector working within the NHS today is "manageable", but any increase on this will lead to the possibility of companies being able to "hide behind commercial confidentiality agreements".

"In five years time, it will be Harley Street 'R' Us and choice and transparency in the NHS will be lost," she said.

"There will not be an NHS. It will be a brand only, serving to represent only what the NHS was.

"There will be thousands of NHS' and they will all be competing against each other."

Gerard Hanratty, a Partner at Capsticks law firm, told MiP the bill would not change the position of private providers "a great deal".

"I would be very surprised if private providers commissioned by the NHS to perform a service deliberately withheld information," he said.

"They certainly couldn't use commercial confidentiality agreements to do so as it would only apply if it related to a secret process ie - if a company thought of an amazing way to provide surgery and pitched the idea in order to try and win a tender, the company could prevent anyone trying to get hold of that tender document using commercial confidentiality."

Mr Hanratty also said the "extensive powers" of the Care Quality Commission would be enough to hold private providers to account.

"Just because the contracts will be held by different parties doesn't mean there will be any great change," he said.

"CCGs and the National Commissioning Board (NCB) will be very keen to replicate the contract style of PCTs and the DH, and in the wake of the PiP implant scandal, they will be especially keen to ensure they can use their leverage to extract patient information when needed."

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"We must cap private sector involvement at current levels and then pull that level back progressively. Without this action, commercial interests and competition will inevitably erode the moral and ethical standards of the NHS, and will eat away at the professional integrity of individual practitioners" – Terry Smyth, Suffolk