Below is the text of Mr Major’s written Parliamentary Answer on the NHS Central Register on 17th June 1986.
Mr. Ashdown Asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will name, list and describe what records are kept of disclosures of information from the National Health Services central register; and if he will publish a summary of the relevant statistics for 1985.
Mr. Major The National Health Service central register is an integral part of the patient registration system administered by family practitioner committees. Patient information held there is limited to name, date of birth, NHS number and an indication of which FPC currently holds the patient’s registration with a NHS doctor.
Disclosure of information from NHS central register records is almost entirely confined to FPCs and the NHS units for whom NHSCR acts as a clearing house for greater efficiency in the administration of Family Practitioner Services.
Information relating to mortality and cancer registrations obtained via OPCS is also used to help researchers in approved medical research and statistical studies, and, also clinicians following up their own patients. Indirect assistance in communicating with patients is provided, with the approval and co-operation of FPC administrators, in circumstances which are clearly to the advantage of the patient or in cases of family separation, illness or bereavement. Assistance is provided to courts seeking to issue or enforce maintenance orders, or orders in respect of wards of court; to police in cases of serious crime and to DHSS to identify the owners of medical cards used in suspected fraudulent encashment of social security cheques.
Apart from the disclosure of information to bodies within the National Health Service and to research studies, requests for information from other sources amount to approximately 1,200 per year.
Mr. Ashdown Asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether instructions have been issued to staff of his Department on the subject of obtaining disclosure of information from the National Health Service central register in the course of investigating actual or suspected fraud by social security claimants; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Major It is not in the public interest to disclose operational procedures for the investigation of social security fraud.
Mr. Ashdown Asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will publish the instructions under which information from the National Health Service central register may be disclosed for any purpose of law enforcement, including disclosure to staff of his Department investigating actual or suspected fraud by social security claimants.
Mr. Major The Code of Guidance used by the National Health Service central register states – there may sometimes be exceptional circumstances which justify the disclosure of information to a law enforcement agency if it can help prevent or detect the commission of a serious crime or bring the criminal to justice… Serious crime may be deemed to include murder, manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, acts of terrorism, causing explosions likely to end life or cause damage to property, possession of firearms with intent to injure, hostage taking, hi-jacking, serious harm to the security of the State or to public order, serious interference with the administration of justice. The onus should be on the enquirer to satisfy NHSCR that the crime is sufficiently serious and that the task of preventing or detecting it would be seriously prejudiced if disclosure were not to be made.” (In all requests to trace patients the Administrator of the appropriate Family Practitioner Committee would be fully involved.) Arrangements have been agreed to help DHSS fraud officers where a medical card has been used as a means of identification when cashing a social security giro cheque which subsequently is found to be fraudulent. NHSCR assistance is provided in response only to a written request from a regional controller and is usually limited to providing the identity of the person recorded against the stated NHS number”.