The Sunday Times recently reported the outcome of a complaint to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). The article describes how a representative of the pharmaceutical company was given access to NHS medical records in order to identify patients who might benefit from a new drug.
This type of activity breaks the ABPI Code of Practice for the pharmaceutical industry and violates patients' right to privacy.
The article also discusses the role of the independent agencies that provide nurse and pharmacist advisers. These agencies are usually funded by the pharmaceutical industry. While these agencies are independent of the promotional activities of the pharmaceutical industry there is still the issue of patient confidentiality and consent.
Access to patient notes is rightly restricted to persons directly involved in patient care. Consent must be obtained before information is disclosed outside the NHS.
Despite that fact that the nurses and pharmacists provided by these agencies are bound to confidentiality by their own professional ethical standards it may be appropriate to seek consent from patients before undertaking any audit work offered by agencies external to the NHS.
Action: Clinicians should carefully consider consent and patients' expectation of privacy before agreeing to undertake any externally operated audit work. The Department of Health has produced guidance on confidentiality and consent in the NHS that may be helpful.
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