"I'm really concerned about Tory proposals to sell off our precious individual medical records with scant regard to protecting our privacy" Liz Bell - Chair - Newbury Labour Party
Liz Bell - Chair - Newbury Labour Party

The Cummings Saga, Tory Handling of the Pandemic and Voter ID Proposals

 I was amused to see our local Newbury MP trying to dismiss Cumming’s testimony to a Select Committee in last week’s Newbury Weekly News. He does indeed have an axe to grind, but sadly the Tory Government have given him a lot of material. His claims are not news to those of us who have been watching events closely, and have been extensively analysed over many months in non Tory media such as The Guardian. And Tory politicians previously rushed to justify his indefensible words and actions. Looks disingenuous to try to dismiss him now. Now more than ever we need a Public Inquiry about the handling of the pandemic, not only to scrutinise Cummings’ and other’s criticisms of what went badly, but also to examine what went well and give due credit for that.  The aim should be to learn lessons that can be applied, by any Government of any political hue, to future pandemics, which sadly are a risk. Particular scrutiny will need to be applied to how the Tory Government handled outsourcing pandemic contracts, where major scandals are being uncovered by The Good Law Project in the courts. What seems to have happened in some cases is that high value contracts were awarded to companies without a proper tendering process, something which may be understandable in a pandemic where speed is of the essence. What is not understandable is such contracts being awarded to companies with  zero relevant experience in the areas concerned such as PPE procurement, and which failed to deliver, leading to a huge wastage of public money, and whose main qualification seemed to be personal links to Tory politicians. No stone should be left unturned in examining those.

Whilst I’m on the subject of wastage of public money, I agree with other recent Newbury Weekly News letter writers’ concerns about the current Tory Voter ID proposals. Without rehearsing the obvious civil liberties issue, it is another example of wasteful proposed expenditure for a non existent problem. Incidence of voter fraud in the UK is vanishingly small, trying to exaggerate it as an issue is straight out of the Trump and other right wing populists playbook, and we know how that ended up in the US. We already have a perfectly valid system that could be slightly tweaked as a check (if one was necessary!). All registered voters already get a card sent to them at their registered address for each election. Just require people to bring it with them to the Polling Station. As it is, the Tory proposals for new Voter ID is just more bureaucracy, which will have to be implemented nationally at great cost, when we really need to be spending taxpayer money on other priorities. 

Red Alert! Raid Happening on Our Personal Medical Records! 

I’m really concerned about Tory proposals to sell off our precious individual medical records with scant regard to protecting our privacy. The situation is as follows.  

Eight years ago the government wanted to put everyone in England’s entire GP records into one central database called Care.data, which would be anonymised and then made available for research purposes to third parties, including private corporations. Care.data failed, because of its poor design and privacy protections, doctors and other campaigners made sure that there was public debate, and enough people learned about it in time to opt out.  

This time the Government is doing the same thing, only in less time, without a public awareness campaign, with a trickier opt out process, and in the middle of a global pandemic.  NHS Digital has barely informed GPs, waiting till the last minute to order them to submit the records of every patient under their care, where they will become a permanent and irreversible part of the new database. Neither the British Medical Association nor the Royal College of GPs have endorsed this process. Patients have until 23rd June to opt out, but most don’t even know about it. 

Why are experts so worried? For starters there is already a safe, secure way for researchers to access genuinely anonymised data on Covid – the Trusted Research Environment. The data NHS Digital will store is pseudonymised, and it says it’ll only be shared with commercial third parties for “research and planning purposes”. But it would be relatively simple to re-identify that data – particularly for those with cross-referencing access to other databases, to say nothing of the risk of the third-party breaches it opens up.  

There are also big questions around why they’re effectively rebooting a failed plan now, with GPs already drowning in a backlog of pandemic-delayed care. I’ve worked with biomedical researchers for years professionally, and I’m worried enough to opt out. To do so you have to fill in a form and return it to your GP ASAP.  To get the form go to How to opt out | medConfidential 

Dr Liz Bell 



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