The STI Clinic News > Confidentiality of NHS Sexual Health Records Under Threat
# Thursday, February 28, 2013
Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 | Categories: General News

Although sexual health is important, the topic still remains a sensitive area that most patients do not wish to discuss. Recently we were made aware of potential confidentiality changes that may happen at NHS sexual health or GUM clinics, which both surprised and shocked us. Here we provide our view on the matter.

Up until now, individuals who have sought treatment at sexual health clinics in the UK have been made aware that their tests and diagnoses are kept under a separate identification numbers and not accessible to other clinicians who may treat them in other circumstances - such as their GP. This is valuable as it is a way of circumventing the embarrassment and stigma that may deter individuals from getting tested for STIs and from accessing treatment. However, a recent oversight in the latest version of the Health and Social Care Act appears to have made it possible to merge sexual health information with other clinical information for the same individual.

We feel that while on the one hand the accessibility of such information could be valuable, overall it is likely to do more harm than good if patients are made aware of the proposed change. For instance, researching sexual health is notoriously difficult as few individuals wish to take part in such studies and it is challenging to estimate how many individuals may have an STI but be unaware of it due to lack of symptoms. If this information were to be provided to general medical records, then researchers would have greater access to valuable data. However, given the nature of the data, we believe a standard procedure of consenting a patient to provide the information would be far more ethical. If this method is used, then we see no need to merge the records.

It has been argued that individuals who have HIV may benefit from all of their clinicians knowing about this and we have to agree that this is unarguable. But what if the merging of records puts people off getting tested in the first place? Early detection is crucial with HIV as patients can be monitored and put on medication that will give them a close to normal life expectancy and makes them less infectious. So maybe a system that encourages testing is better than one that is totally joined-uu?

Since we opened in 2008, we have spoken to many patients who are worried that somebody will find out about them contacting us. We understand how sensitive issues regarding sexual health are, and have done our utmost to keep our services 100% discreet. This is what patients expect and demand. The proposed change will be good for us and other private providers but will it be good for the nation’s sexual health strategy? We think not.

 

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