care.data missing answers

care.data programme questions remain unanswered – what should patients do now?

care.data programme questions remain unanswered [1] and opportunities to demonstrate better transparency have to date, been turned down.

For anyone interested in the care.data rollout, professionals, patients and public alike, it is worrying to see the continued secrecy which shrouds the programme. We’ve been told online (but most in the public will still not know) an initial rollout in 4 CCG areas is now planned [2], but at which GP practices remains unclear.

On October 12th I asked that the care.data programme board minutes should be made public. The request is still open.[3]

“They seem hell bent on going ahead. I know they listened, but what did they hear?”

Questions asked by hundreds of people at multiple listening events remain unpublished and unanswered. Risks need resolved.

It is ironic that for a programme whose stated aim is to gather patient information in order to answer open questions about care,  it is so unwilling to give information back to answer the questions we, the ‘data subjects’ have about the programme.

I believe it is important to ensure that the questions are transparent, criticisms addressed and clarified, open issues solved and questions answered ahead of the pathfinder rollout to ensure the greatest success of the programme.

If the programme proceeds on an opt out basis, the risk is increased that it will not meet Data Protection regulation[4], which requires informed use of personal data. This puts GPs at risk. [5]

All the people who made the effort to attend these events for the benefit of the programme and the public good deserve answers. This would minimise the risks the public raised, which remain unresolved.

It is also important for maintaining trust in the integrity and value of user participation and engagement at other NHS events, and in this programme in particular.

Public and Transparent Feedback was Promised

I wrote to Mr. Tim Kelsey, Director, at the Patients and Information Directorate, NHS England today to ask, once again, for the release of public feedback.

Now two months ago, when I spoke with him after the NHS AGM in London on September 18th about care.data, the public questions have still not been put into the public domain.

He agreed that the raw feedback from all the care.data listening events, which included all the open questions asked by participants, would be published, “Shortly.”

This feedback includes questions from the NHS Open Days on June 17th  (4 locations), the stand-alone care.data events since, and those from the care.data advisory sessions hosted in Peterborough and Coin Street, London [6].

NHS England claims there have been hundreds of events. The website says some took place in my county, though I haven’t heard of any and neither has my CCG. Those of which I am aware and six attended, all generated a huge number of participant questions on paper, post-its and electronically, which participants were told would be published and answered, including put on the Open Day website ‘later in the summer'[7]:

“Feedback from this session is being incorporated into the overall report from the care.data listening phase which will be published later in the summer and linked to from this site.”

This is still to happen, and now nearing the end of November, is somewhat overdue.

My own questions at four events were on process and I believe it is important to get these clarified BEFORE the pathfinder:

  • How will you communicate with Gillick competent children [8], whose records may contain information about which their parents are not aware? [note also RCGP online roadmap p.15][9]
  • How will you manage this for elderly or vulnerable patients in care homes and with diminished awareness or responsibility?
  • When things change in scope or use, how will we be informed of changing plans for use or users, on an ongoing basis? [Data protection principle 2] [10]
  • For any future changes, how will we be given the choice to change our opt out or opt in? Consent is not a one-time agreement  but needs managed on a continual, rolling basis – how will this be achieved?

Campaigners have also raised remaining, unresolved issues.

Key legal questions remain, including on Opt Out

I am starting to become concerned that the opt out is STILL not on a statutory footing. Will the Secretary of State make good his verbal agreement in law?

What legal changes will be made that back up the verbal guarantees given since February? If none are forthcoming, then were the statements made to Parliament untrue? [11]

“people should be able to opt out from having their anonymised data used for the purposes of scientific research.”

I am yet to see this legal change and to date, the only publicly stated choice is only for identifiable data [12], not all data, as stated by the Minister.

So too the promised extra governance on a legal basis has not yet happened.

It is worth a note that although the Health and Social Care Act 2012 may have steamrollered the legal position of the patient and GP, and that confidentiality no longer comes first, informed consent even if assumed, is still in other circumstances to be obtained fairly:

“Consent obtained under duress or on the basis of misleading information does not adequately satisfy the condition for processing.” [ICO]

Should this principle not also apply even if GPs are legally obliged to release data without patient consent? [I feel that needs more discussion, so will write about consent in my next post.]

There is much made of ‘new legal protection’ of our data but in fact it is impossible to see it provides any such thing, and yes, I have read it. The Care Act 2014 did not get amended with any binding or truly clear provisions to make data more confidential or secure.

Concerns of many people centre on commercial use, and re-use of data, and these are not addressed by the loose terms for the benefit of adult health and social care’ or the ‘promotion of health’. [part 4 p.120] Data sold all year may have met this criteria, but is this how we expect our health records to be used without our express permission?

“We will use Mosiac, appended to the ICD10 code diagnoses, to create national Mosaic profiles. These estimates and propensities will be sold to public and commercial organisations to enable them to target resources more effectively and efficiently…Other data characteristics that are also linked to Mosiac can then be used to understand broader lifestyle characteristics of those most at risk to ensure that messages and communications are appropriate and well targeted.” [July register]

Question from Leicester: “Are we saying there will be only clinical use of the data – no marketing, no insurance, no profit making? This is our data.”[13]

So I hope it is clear, that these concerns are not only mine, but remain unanswered for the broader participants of listening events.

Questions from others

I’m publishing here the filtered and NHS England written, summary response of the 26th June event [14], I received as an attendee. (40 people, of whom ca 10 NHS England and HSCIC staff).

I disagreed with one of the statements made at our table at the meeting, and pointed out it was not factual. History as I understand, and has been stated by HSCIC in FOIs, will not be deleted. Yet this was allowed to be included in the notes sent to all:

“communicate that identifiable information can be deleted.”

The workshop was about how to access ‘hard-to-reach’ groups, so focused on communications methods. You will see that many statements are about how to market the programme, and do not clarify questions of substance, although many were asked on the day about scope definition, and future data changes.

Questions have not yet been addressed, such as Gillick, on children in care, young offenders, the forces, avoiding ‘propaganda-ish’ sounding and bias in the materials, to ensure the ‘adequate requirements’ for data processing.

You can see from this, that although the listening events may be deemed to have been a success, the answering part is still missing.

How are NHS England measuring success? What does good look like? I guarantee from a public perspective, it’s not there yet.

Long term benefit must not be harmed in the rush for a pilot tick-box

Since the programme is heralded as so vital for the NHS, I believe we should not be making the best of a bad job, but shaping process, security and communications to be world class, worthy of our NHS.[15]

We also need to see a long-term cost benefit plan – if we don’t know how some of these future processes are to be managed, how will we know what they will cost, and are they worth it?

The project should not aim for a quick and dirty pilot rollout. Perhaps there is a need to tick the ‘on time’ box for an NHS England target or meet a job description appraisal, as I would have had when I was responsible for project implementations in my past commercial industry role?

As it stands it is not NHS England/DoH who has the most to lose if this goes ahead as is. They must look at the big picture and accept their responsibility for this project, decide not to rush it and not expect the public and GPs to carry its risk.

At the weekend, in a speech about TTIP I heard the phrase, it’s “a classic case of socialising the risk and privatising the profit.”

So too it feels for me on care.data. NHS England wants all the benefit of our information, including from its sale, but it is we, individual patients and GPs who will be harmed if its security, commercial use [16], or everyday trust & confidentiality are compromised.

The Department of Health must look beyond party political aims pre-election. This is for the good of the NHS, which belongs to us all.

We must see open questions on process and content openly answered, for professionals and public alike.

Only then, can we trust that the infrastructure and promises made behind the scenes have set the foundation for this scheme to be worthy of our most intimate and confidential data.[17]

What can Patients do now?

“The policy and practical answers we need to ensure success, will not fit on a flyer or SMS.”

I have spoken with some of my fellow attendees since these events, including for example Stan Burridge, the Research Lead on Service User Involvement at Pathway London. (A charity providing healthcare to the homeless and which works with others on policy and best-practice approach sharing. Their recent work on dentistry outreach achieved a 0% no-show rate – getting the vital care needed for their clients and saving ££ for NHS dentist provision.)

His comments are a good summary of what has happened since:

“In the events, opinions could be expressed, questions asked, and I was made to feel they were valid questions, but they’re doing very little to answer them so that it makes a difference.

“I feel I was engaged with the process, but it’s doing nothing for the people on the margins.

“They should be given an informed choice to opt in, an uninformed choice not to opt out is not the same.

It is unclear what patients can now do, to get the answers we have asked for. We want to make a positive difference to make the project better.

The listening events seem to have been a one way process, and participation for PR purposes, rather than real engagement. The policy and practical answers we need to ensure success, will not fit on a flyer or SMS. They can’t be communicated as part of the pilot rollout. We need them published, addressed and ironed out up front.

Stan summed up exactly what I feel and what I have heard from many others:

“They seem hell bent on going ahead. I know they listened, but what did they hear?”

 

****

[1] A patient’s open letter to NHS England

[2] CCG pathfinder announcement

[3] care.data programme board minutes and materials FOI

[4] ICO Guide to Data Protection

[5] Medical Protection and care.data concern

[6] Coin Street care.data advisory group public event, Sept 6th

[7] NHS England Open House event 17th June

[8] Gillick and data protection for children

[9] RCGP Online Roadmap, includes concern on accessing data by those at risk of domestic abuse and children

[10] ICO Data Protection guidelines

[11] Hansard, Parliament 25th February 2014

[12] Parliamentary briefing note on care.data

[13] Questions from the Open House, incl. Leicester

[14] NHS England summary of feedback and statements from public event at Mencap, June 26th 2014

[15] Post from July 21st HSCIC roadmap event, future data use

[16] Commercial use of data with brokers – call for consumer data transparency

[17] Code list prepared by medConfidential and open issues

humanity

On Being Human – moral and material values

The long running rumours of change afoot on human rights political policy were confirmed recently, and have been in the media and on my mind since.

Has human value become not just politically acceptable, but politically valuable?

Paul Bernal in his blog addressed the subject which has been on my mind, ‘Valuing the Human’ and explored the idea, ‘Many people seem to think that there isn’t any value in the human, just in certain kinds of human.’ Indeed, in recent months there appears to be the creation of a virtual commodity, making this concept of human value “not just politically acceptable, but politically valuable.” The concept of the commodity of human value, was starkly highlighted by Lord Freud’s recent comments, on human worth. How much a disabled person should earn was the focus of the remarks, but conflated the price of labour and human value.

European Rights undermined

Given the party policy announcements and the response by others in government or lack of it, it is therefore unsurprising that those familiar with human rights feel they will be undermined in the event that the policy proposals should ever take effect. As the nation gears up into full electioneering mode for May 2015, we have heard much after party speeches, about rights and responsibilities in our dealings with European partners, on what Europe contributes to, or takes away from our sovereignty in terms of UK law. There has been some inevitable back-slapping and generalisation in some quarters that everything ‘Europe’ is bad.

Whether or not our state remains politically within the EU may be up for debate, but our tectonic plates are not for turning. So I find it frustrating when politicians or in the media, we hear ofpulling out of Europe’ or similar.

This conflation of language is careless,  but I fear it is also dangerous in a time when the right wing fringe is taking mainstream votes and politicians in by-elections. Both here in the UK and in other European countries this year, far right groups have taken significant votes. Poor language on what is ‘Europe’ colours our common understanding of what ‘Europe’ means, the nuances of the roles organisational bodies have, for example the differences between the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice, and their purposes are lost entirely.

The values imposed in the debate are therefore misaligned with the organisations’ duties, and all things ‘European’ and organisations  are tarred with the same ‘interfering’ brush and devalued.

Human Rights were not at their heart created by ‘Europe’ nor are they only some sort of treaty to be opted out from, [whilst many are enshrined in treaties and Acts which were, and are] but their values risk being conflated with the structures which support them.

“A withdrawal from the convention could jeopardise Britain’s membership of the EU, which is separate to the Council of Europe whose members are drawn from across the continent and include Russia and Ukraine. Membership of the Council of Europe is a requirement for EU member states.” [Guardian, October 3rd – in a clearly defined article]

The participation in the infrastructure of ‘Brussels’ however, is convenient to conflate with values; a loss of sovereignty, loss of autonomy, frivoulous legislation. Opting out of a convention should not mean changing our values. However it does seem the party attitude now on show, is seeking to withdraw from the convention. This would mean withdrawing the protections the structure offers. Would it mean withdrawing rights offered to all citizens equally as well?

Ethical values undermined

Although it varies culturally and with few exceptions, I think we do have in England a collective sense of what is fair, and how we wish to treat each others as human beings. Increasingly however, it feels as though through loose or abuse of language in political debate we may be giving ground on our ethics. We are being forced to bring the commodity of human value to the podium, and declare on which side we stand in party politics. In a time of austerity, there is a broad range of ideas how.

Welfare has become branded ‘benefits’. Migrant workers, ‘foreigners’ over here for ‘benefit tourism’. The disabled labeled ‘fit for work’ regardless of medical fact. It appears, increasingly in the UK, some citizens are being measured by their economic material value to contribute or take away from ‘the system’.

I’ve been struck by the contrast coming from 12 years abroad, to find England a place where the emphasis is on living to work, not working to live. If we’re not careful, we see our personal output in work as a measure of our value. Are humans to be measured only in terms of our output, by our productivity, by our ‘doing’ or by our intrinsic value as an individual life? Or simply by our ‘being’? If indeed we go along with the concept, that we are here to serve some sort of productive goal in society on an economic basis, our measurement of value of our ‘doing’, is measured on a material basis.

“We hear political speeches talking about ‘decent, hardworking people’ – which implies that there are some people who are not as valuable.”

I strongly agree with this in Paul’s blog. And as he does, disagree with its value statement.

Minority Rights undermined

There are minorities and segments of society whose voice is being either ignored, or actively quietened. Those on the outer edge of the umbrella ‘society’ offers us, in our collective living, are perhaps least easily afforded its protections. Travelers, those deemed to lack capacity, whether ill, old or young, single parents, or ‘foreign’ workers, to take just some examples.
I was told this week that the UK has achieved a  first. It was said, we are the first ‘first-world’ country under review by the CPRD for human rights abuse of the disabled. Which cannot be confirmed nor denied by the UN but a recent video indicated. This is appalling in 21st century Britain.

Recently on Radio 4 news I heard of thousands of ESA claimants assigned to work, although their medical records clearly state they are long term unfit.

The group at risk highlighted on October 15th in the Lords, in debate on electoral records’ changes [col 206]  is women in refuges, women who feel at risk. As yet I still see nothing to assure me that measures have been taken to look after this group, here or for care.data.{*}

These are just simplified sample groups others have flagged at risk. I feel these groups’ basic rights are being ignored, because they can be for these minorities. Are they viewed as of less value than the majority of ‘decent, hardworking people’ perhaps, as having less economic worth to the state?

Politicians may say that any change will continue to ensure:

Politically, socially and economically we do not exist in silos. So too, our human rights which overlap in these areas, should be considered together.

Recent years has seen a steady reduction of rights to access for the most vulnerable in society. Access to a lawyer or judicial review has been made more difficult through charging for it.  The Ministry of Justice is currently pushing for, but losing it seems their quest in the Lords, for changes to the judicial review law.

If you are a working-age council or housing association tenant, the council limits your housing benefit claim if it decides you have ‘spare’ bedrooms. Changes have hit the disabled and their families hardest. These segments of the population are being denied or given reduced access to health, social and legal support.

Ethical Values need Championed

What restrictions do we place on value and how are moral and material values to play out together? Are they compatible or in competition?

“We’ve got to change the way we innovate, the way that we collaborate, and the way that we open up the NHS.” [David Cameron, 2011]

“We should be both optimistic and ambitious for the further advances that lie within our reach. Medicine is becoming more tailored to the individual.”

We must find our own moral compass to find a State standpoint on whether we see human worth as a commodity, or whether it should be. Where will the future balance lie between material and moral rights? Because the current direction of travel is clear. Everything has a price.

But at what cost?

 

**** Relevant for research background {*}:

The last six months of  my blog ‘thinking to some purpose’ has been spent doing my best to raise concerns from the public on care.data, in the hope of making a positive difference.

For anyone less familiar with it, this is the initiative to extract and use our confidential GP records for purposes other than direct care. Those concerns remain unanswered, so for my summary,  see here, my six month round up.

Whilst care.data announced that the CCGs had been selected in which GP practices will pilot care.data, but further facts remain unclear what exactly what they will pilot [communications or going also to extraction] or when. For both the public in those locations and elsewhere, we can only wait and see, how long, is an unknown.

titanic2

Deregulation – the UK Bill and the Titanic TTIP

The Deregulation Bill will go to the Lords Committee stage on 6th November. [For ongoing progress, see here.]

Deregulation Bill

 

[graphic added Nov 21st: This was the concluding statement by Lord Tunnicliffe on November 20th.]

I write this in follow up to a previous post because I’d like to know more about it. I believe it’s a big bill with one very important little clause.

83 Exercise of regulatory functions: economic growth:

(1) A person exercising a regulatory function to which this section applies must,  in the exercise of the function, have regard to the desirability of promoting  economic growth.

(2) In performing the duty under subsection (1), the person must, in particular,  consider the importance for the promotion of economic growth of exercising  the regulatory function in a way which ensures that—

(a) regulatory action is taken only when it is needed,

and

(b) any action taken is proportionate.

Sections of the Deregulation Act [Clause 83 in particular] currently passing through Parliament suggest the removal of any regulation that conflicts with the interests of a profit-maker.

 

There are domestic and regulatory bodies for which we should carefully consider this implication, not least from my perspective, in the NHS regulation; Monitor and CQC, the MHRA and HFEA (Fertility and Embryology) and how about the Human Tissue Authority? A body whose purpose is to:

“manage the interests of the public and those we regulate at the centre of our work. It aims to maintain confidence by ensuring that human tissue is used safely and ethically, and with proper consent.” [Ref: HTA]

(Full list of regulatory organisations at the end of this post.)

The Deregulation Bill surely creates an ethical conflict or at least challenge, when in law it must consider commercial gain above other factors?

The clause is openly worded, that regulatory action should be taken only when it is needed and that any action taken should be proportionate.

That suggests that regulatory interventions should be reduced. Who and how will it be decided when and what is ‘proportionate’?

The Bill provides that a person exercising a regulatory function specified by the Minister:

In detail, what does that mean? If it’s not important why include it at all? If it is important, why have we heard so little about it?

Functions to which section 83 applies:

The Joint Committee Reported on Human Rights, June 14th 2014 has concerns about the impact of this, listed in this report:

The Government intends this economic growth duty to apply to the EHRC. We believe that applying this growth duty to the EHRC poses a significant risk to the EHRC’s independence, and therefore to its compliance with the Paris Principles and the Equal Treatment Directives as implemented by the Equality Act 2010. The Government is therefore risking the possibility of the EHRC’s accredited “A” status being downgraded and of putting the UK in breach of its obligations under EU equality law. Unless the continuing discussions between the Government and the Commission satisfy the Commission that the growth duty will not in any way impact upon its independence, we recommend that this duty not be applied to the EHRC.

A large number of organisations play a part in securing compliance with the law. They include national regulators, local authorities, and bodies independent of Government, some of which have statutory regulatory functions.  This below, is a list of the main national regulators. It is not exhaustive.  But we should understand how wide ranging this apparently small function in the Bill may turn out to be.

I believe this clause will serve to mop up the real or imagined economic leakage that the government may seek to capture from all these bodies. Resources that are as yet, untapped.

How will these regulatory bodies promote economic growth?

I wonder how, in the best public interest at all times, economic interest should come first in bodies responsible for oversight?

Will the Drinking Water Inspectorate under DEFRA stay entirely independent?

What about the Gambling Commission – in its remit is ‘to protect children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling’?

How will the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) hope to promote economic growth? Or the Forestry commission?

The consequences of such widespread promotion of deregulation seems ill-thought through and given little public attention.

Could it be that under austerity, and desperate to squeeze every drop of monetary gain from our state bodies, that this clause will open the gateway to increased fees, or the start of fees for some current non-charging access by the public to services? Or will they be encouraged as schools were once, to sell off land and assets? Many of these bodies hold little land. What they both produce and hold, is data. It is clear from current practice and the direction of travel across government departments, that data is seen as a commodity and an untapped resource for sale.

What about authorities which charge the public fees for services or could do so – the CAA for airspace regulation, the DVLA or the ICO? Will we see an increase in prices – it is perhaps almost inevitable if the desirability  to promote economic growth is to be given statutory footing.

In addition to looking at what may actively promote commercial growth by direct sale or raising fees, rather than imaginary direct marketing concepts, in order to promote economic growth, will we simply find it more likely that indirect growth is encouraged through change in regulatory practices?

Most importantly perhaps, will we see regulations slackened which cost money to oversee? And the organisations which are to be regulated, permitted to do more which promotes commercial interest over other policies, or ethics?

[added 19 Nov: Indeed on a previous day of debate it appears regulation of Social Care staff is to be scrapped without proper consultation or scrutiny in Clause 71]

I wonder if a future state aims to deregulate the market in almost every field of activity to enable profits for private commercial businesses, and if the intent is not desirable economic growth for the state directly, but indirectly?

If so, will the ideology that once deregulated, somehow private business interests will contribute more to the economy than they do today, be realised in practice? How has the deregulation of trains, postal services, water and utilities benefited the public interest over economic growth?

If the benefit is to be state economic growth,  whether through revenue direct or indirect, and whether or not it is achieved in the way it may be hoped, there will be other consequences. Have we learned lessons from other areas in which oversight of regulation has been slackened in recent times, such as banking?

What happened since Banking was deregulated?

Anyone who can look back at the deregulation of the financial markets and say it was all, without any doubt a good thing, should say subprime mortgage deregulation and wash their mouth out.

“Regulation did not keep pace and became mismatched with the risks building in the economy. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) tasked with investigating the causes of the crisis reported in January 2011 that: “We had a 21st-century financial system with 19th-century safeguards.” [FCIC report]

“It found widespread failures in financial regulation; dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance; excessive borrowing and risk-taking by households and Wall Street; policy makers who were ill prepared for the crisis; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.” **[FCIC]

In summary,  has any cost risk benefit analysis has been done on the impact of what this widespread cross-market promotion of deregulation and the desirability of economic growth in a regulatory function will mean?

Deregulation is set on course at full steam ahead

Let’s not forget, that this UK Bill is simply a sponge on the deck of the Titanic of deregulation, the TTIP.

The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. Its plan to cross the Atlantic at break neck speed has been somewhat slowed. But its purpose remains steadfast. There are effectively no tariff restrictions in place any more, so the barriers left to lift are those of regulatory intervention:

“The US and the European commission, both of which have been captured by the corporations they are supposed to regulate, are pressing for investor-state dispute resolution to be included in the agreement.” [The Guardian, Nov 4 2014]

This peer-reviewed  paper looks at the imagined trade and its consequences, “leaving the investment component of TTIP on the sidelines. Going forward, valuable insights could be drawn by further extending the analysis of TTIP’s financial effects.”

[Update Nov 13, letter today in the FT: quotes the same research paper and notes, “Even the most vocal proponents of free trade admit that there’s nothing irrational about opposing such big issues of public policy being traded off behind closed doors.” Nick Dearden, Director, World Development Movement]

Whilst much is made, with some confusion, around the potential for impact on the NHS, TTIP is indisputably very real for the rest of industry and wider market. And any deregulation as a whole touches many NHS bodies.

In conclusion:

There should be detailed analysis and an impact assessment made for this Deregulation Bill clause as it stands alone. It must also be seen in conjunction with proposals for deregulation under TTIP,  and the impact analysed for the vast number of regulatory bodies and functions we have under the State wing, for the public good.

I sincerely hope our legislators in the Lords are taking this into account and that the failures created in part through deregulation twenty years ago in banking, are not recycled now across the board.

Can society afford “dramatic breakdowns in governance, risk taking, learning by mistakes, or systemic breaches in accountability and ethics?” ** as we saw as a consequence in banking?

Oversight serves an important purpose.

It is often to ensure a balance between the needs of people, and search for profit. Whilst it is an accepted practice in our market economy, to seek to  make a profit,  oversight and regulation can ensure it’s not at all costs.

Some of these public services that the regulatory bodies oversee in England will be harmed if they are not free to all at the point of their delivery. The independence of their ethical decision making will be challenged if it competes with promoting economic growth.

Click on the organisation’s name below to read about each one.

Who will help the public understand what this Deregulation Bill clause really will mean and complete proper analysis of its impact for each regulatory authority? I hope that those responsible for scrutiny of the Bill see value in maintaining first and foremost, independent oversight and ethics, in the Public Interest.

Or will the band continue to play as TTIP sails on? And will the Deregulation Bill pass as is, to promote the desirability of economic growth at all costs?

———

[Update November 21st:

Significant concerns raised in yesterday’s discussion by Lord Tunnicliffe and others on this Clause 83: The promotion of Economic Growth for Regulatory Bodies.

Social Care:
On a previous day of debate (Nov 18th) it appears regulation of Social Care staff is to be scrapped without proper consultation or scrutiny, in Clause 71.

Column GC116: “This is despite the fact that there was no clear support for removing regulation in the original consultation responses.

“The Government did not consult on this issue as part of the consultation in April 2014 on extending outsourcing in children’s social work. During the debate in Committee in the House of Commons on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill, the Deputy Leader of the Commons, Tom Brake MP, acknowledged that there had been no clear support for removing the registration requirement.”

“The Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England raised concerns and stated: “We consider all delegated social care services should be required to have formal registration with Ofsted in addition to an expectation that they will be held to account by rigorous and expert inspection, just as local authorities currently are”.

Scrutiny and Bill quality and clarity:
In particular concerns are raised in the Lords on lack of proper documentation and new legislation included which has not had scrutiny by the HoC or Scrutiny Committee.

Column GC142 “it is inefficient for Parliament to try to scrutinise line by line material which is obscure and possibly not very well expressed in terms of the material we are given and the notes.”
“One is that without a Keeling schedule relating to the particularities of the Bills being amended, it is almost impossible to work out what they are.”

Column GC144 “… that we are discussing now was not discussed in the Commons. It was not discussed by the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny Committee, as we have heard, and there has been no real opportunity to call those who drafted it to account. A blow for better government.”

Lord Tunnicliffe concluded on November 20th:

“We are all on the same side, but if our fears comes to pass, these three clauses could wreak havoc in a regulatory regime within this country that, generally speaking, is doing pretty well.” [Hansard]

My concerns seem founded, supported by many of these comments in recent debate in the Lords. I feel this Bill is a disaster lying in the future path of the Public Interest.  “Iceberg, right ahead!”

End Nov 21st update.]

*********

List of The National Regulators

Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA)

Animals in Science Regulation Unit

Architects Registration Board (ARB)

British Hallmarking Council (BHC)

Care Quality Commission (CQC)

Charity Commission for England and Wales

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

Claims Management Regulation Unit

Coal Authority

Companies House

Competition Commission

Professional Standards for Health and Social Care (PSA)

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI)

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

Driving Standards Agency (DSA)

Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS)

English Heritage (EH)

Environment Agency

Equality and Human Rights Commission

Financial Reporting Council (FRC)

Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI), Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Food and environment research agency (plant and bee health) and (Plant Variety and Seeds)

Food Standards Agency (FSA)

Forestry Commission

Gambling Commission

Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA)

Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

Highways Agency (HA)

HM Revenue and Customs (Money Laundering Regulations and National Minimum Wage)

Homes & Communities Agency (HCA)

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA)

Human Tissue Authority (HTA)

Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)

Insolvency Service including Insolvency Practitioner Unit

Intellectual Property Office (IPO)

Legal Services Board (LSB)

Marine Management Organisaton (MMO)

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

Monitor

National Measurement Office (NMO)

Natural England

Office of Communications

Office for Fair Access (OFFA)

Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR)

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED)

Office of Fair Trading

OFQUAL

Office of Rail Regulation (ORR)

Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies

OFGEM

Pensions Regulator

Rural Payments Agency (RPA)

Security Industry Authority (SIA)

Senior Traffic Commissioner

Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA)

Trinity House Lighthouse Service (THLS)

UK Anti-Doping (UKAD)

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA)

Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA)

Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)

Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT)

bear1

Patient questions on care.data – an open letter

Dear NHS England Patients & Information Directorate,

We’ve been very patient patients in the care.data pause. Please can we have some answers now?

I would like to call for greater transparency and openness about the promises made to the public, project processes & policies and your care.data communication plans.

In 2013, in the Health Service Journal Mr. Kelsey wrote:

“When patients are ignored, they are most at risk; that was the central conclusion of the report by Robert Francis into Stafford hospital.

Don Berwick, in his safety review, said the NHS should be “engaging, empowering and hearing patients and their carers all the time.

“That has been my mission since I started as National Director for Patients and Information: to support health and care services transform transparency and participation.

HSJ, 10th December 2013

It is time to walk-the-talk for care.data under this banner of transparency, participation and open government.

Response to the Listening exercises

The care.data listening phase, introduced by the pause announced on February 18th, has captured a mass of questions, the majority of which still remain unaddressed.

At one of these sessions, [the 1-hr session on June 17th Open House, linking ca. 100 people at each of the locations in Basingstoke, Leicester, London, and York] participants were promised that our feedback would be shared with us later in the summer, and posted online. After the NHS AGM on Sept 18th I was told it would happen ‘soon’. It is still not in the public domain.

At every meeting all the unanswered questions, on post-it notes, in table-group minutes or scribbled flipcharts, were gathered ‘to be answered at a later date’. When will that be?

To date, there has been no published information which addresses the unanswered event questions.

Transparency of Process, Policies and Approach

The care.data Programme Board has held meetings to plan the rollout process, policies and approach. The minutes and materials from which have not been published. I find this astonishing when one considers that the minutes of the care.data advisory group, NIB (new), CAG, GPES advisory or even NHS England Board itself are in the public domain. I believe the care.data Programme Board meeting materials should be too.

It was acknowledged through the Partridge Review of past use of our hospital records that this HES data is not anonymous. The extent of its sale to commercial third-parties and use by police and the Home Office was revealed. This is our medical data we gave to hospitals and in our wider medical use for our care. Why are we the last to hear it’s being accessed by all sorts of people who are not at all involved in our clinical care?

Even for commissioning purposes it is unclear how these datasharing reasons are justified when the Caldicott Review said extracting identifiable data for risk stratification or commissioning could not be assumed under some sort of ‘consent deal’?

“The Review Panel found that commissioners do not need dispensation from confidentiality, human rights and data protection law…” [The Information Governance review, ch7]

The 251 approval just got extended *again* – until 30th April 2015. If you can’t legally extract data without repeat approvals from on high, then maybe it’s time to question why?

The DoH, NHS England Patients and Information Directorate, HSCIC, and indeed many data recipients, all appear to have normalised an approach that for many is still a shock. The state centralised and passed on our medical records to others without our knowledge or permission. For years. With financial exchange. 

Amazingly, it continues to be released in this way today, still without our consent or fair processing or publicised way to opt out.

“To earn the public’s trust in future we must be able to show that our controls are meticulous, fool-proof and solid as a rock.”  said Sir Nick Partridge in his summary review.

Now you ask us to trust in care.data that the GP data, a degree more personal, will be used properly. Yet you ask us to do this without significant changes in legislation to safeguard tightly defined purposes who can access it and why, how we control what future changes may be made without our knowledge and without a legally guaranteed opt out. There is no information about what social care dataset is to be included in future, so how can we know what care.data scope even is yet?

Transparency cannot be a convenient watch word which applies with caveats. Quid pro quo, you want our data under an assumed consent process, then guarantee a genuinely informed public.

You can’t tell patients one approach now, then plan to change what will be said after the pilot is complete, knowingly planning a wider scope to include musculoskeletal or social care data and more.  Or knowing you plan to broaden users of data [like research and health intelligence currently under discussion at IAG ] but only communicate a smaller version in the pilot. That is like cheating on a diet. You can’t say and do one thing in public, then have your cake and eat it later when no one is looking. It still counts.

In these processes, policies and approach, I don’t feel my trust can be won back with lack of openness and transparency. I don’t yet see a system which is, ‘meticulous, fool-proof or solid as a rock’.

‘Pathfinder’ pilots

Most recently you have announced that four areas of CCGs will pilot the ‘pathfinder’ stage in the rollout of phase one. But where and when remains a  mystery. Pathfinder communications methods may vary from place to place and trial what works and what fails. One commendable method will be a written letter.

However even given that individual notice intent, we cannot ignore that many remaining questions will be hard to address in a leaflet or letter. They certainly won’t fit into an SMS text.

Why pilot communications at all which will leave the same open questions unanswered you already know, but have not answered?

For example, let’s get a few of the missing processes clarified up front:

  • How will you communicate with Gillick competent children, whose records may contain information about which their parents are not aware?
  • How will you manage this for elderly or vulnerable patients in care homes and with diminished awareness or responsibility?
  • What of  the vulnerable at risk of domestic abuse and coercion?
  • When things change in scope or use, how will we be given the choice to change our opt out decision?

I ask you not to ignore the processes which remain open. They need addressed BEFORE the pilot, unless you want people to opt out on the basis of their uncertainty and confusion.

What you do now, will set the model expectations for future communications. Patient online. Personalised medicine. If NHS health and social care is to become all about the individual, will you address all individuals equally or is reaching some less important than others?

It seems there is time and effort in talking to other professionals about big data, but not to us, whose data it is. Dear Patients & Information Directorate, you need to be talking to us, before to others about how to use us.

In March, this twelve point plan made some sensible suggestions.

Many of them remain unaddressed. You could start there. But in addition it must be clear before getting into communications tools, what is it that the pathfinders are actually piloting?

You can’t pilot communications without clearly defined contents to talk about.

Questions of substance need answers, the ten below to start with.

What determines that patients understand the programme and are genuinely informed, and how will it be measured?

Is it assumed that pilots will proceed to extraction? Or will the fair processing efforts be evaluated first and the effort vs cost be taken into account whether it is worth proceeding at all?

Given the cost involved, and legal data protection requirements, surely the latter? But the pathfinder action plan conflates the two.

Citizen engagement

Let’s see this as an opportunity to get care.data right, for us, the patients. After all, you and the rest of the NHS England Board were keen to tell us at the NHS AGM on September 18th, how valuable citizen engagement is, and to affirm that the NHS belongs to us all.

How valued is our engagement in reality, if it is ignored? How will involvement continue to be promoted in NHS Citizen and other platforms, if it is seen to be ineffective? How might this negatively affect future programmes and our willingness to get involved in clinical research if we don’t trust this basic programme today?

This is too important to get wrong. It confuses people and causes concern. It put trust and confidence in jeopardy. Not just for now, but for other future projects. care.data risks polluting across data borders, even to beyond health:

“The care.data story is a warning for us all. It is far better if the industry can be early on writing standards and protocols to protect privacy now rather than later on down the track,” he said. [David Willets, on 5G]

So please, don’t keep the feedback and this information to internal departments.

We are told it is vital to the future of our NHS. It’s our personal information.  And both belong to us.

During one Health Select Committee hearing, Mr. Kelsey claimed: “If 90 per cent opt out [of care.data], we won’t have an NHS.”

The BMA ARM voted in June for an opt in model.

ICO has ruled that an opt in model by default at practice level with due procedures for patient notification will satisfy both legal requirements and protect GPs in their role as custodians of confidentiality and data controllers. Patient Concern has called for GPs to follow that local choice opt in model.

I want to understand why he feels what the risk is, to the NHS and examine its evidence base. It’s our NHS and if it is going to fail without care.data and the Board let it come to this, then we must ask why. And we can together do something to fix it. There was a list of pre-conditions he stated at those meetings would be needed before any launch, which the public is yet to see met. Answering this question should be part of that.

It can’t afford to fail, but how do we measure at what cost?

I was one of many, including much more importantly the GPES Advisory Group, who flagged the shortcomings of the patient leaflet in October 2013, which failed to be a worthwhile communications process in January. I flagged it with comms teams, my MP, the DoH.

[Sept 2013 GPES Advisory] “The Group also had major concerns about the process for making most patients aware of the contents of the leaflets before data extraction for care.data commenced”.

No one listened. No action was taken. It went ahead as planned. It cost public money, and more importantly, public trust.

In the words of Lord Darzi,

“With more adroit handling, this is a row that might have been avoided.”

Now there is still a chance to listen and to act. This programme can’t afford to pilot another mistake. I’m sure you know this, but it would appear that with the CCG announcement, the intent is to proceed to pilot soon.  Ready or not.

If the programme is so vital to the NHS future, then let’s stop and get it right. If it’s not going to get the participation levels needed, then is it worth the cost? What are the risks and benefits of pressing ahead or at what point do we call a halt? Would it be wise to focus first on improving the quality and correct procedures around the data you already have – before increasing the volume of data you think you need? Where is the added intelligence, in adding just more information?

Is there any due diligence, a cost benefit analysis for care.data?

Suggestions

Scrap the ‘soon’ timetable. But tell us how long you need.

The complete raw feedback from all these care.data events should be made public, to ensure all the questions and concerns are debated and answers found BEFORE any pilot.

The care.data programme board minutes papers and all the planning and due diligence should be published and open to scrutiny, as any other project spending public funds should be.

A public plan of how the pathfinders fit into the big picture and timeline of future changes and content would remove the lingering uncertainty of the public and GPs: what is going on and when will I be affected?

The NHS 5 year forward view was quite clear; our purse strings have been pulled tight. The NHS belongs to all of us. And so we should say, care.data  can’t proceed at any and at all costs. It needs to be ‘meticulous, fool-proof and solid as a rock’.

We’ve been patient patients. We should now expect the respect and response, that deserves.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours sincerely.

 

Addendum: Sample of ten significant questions still outstanding

1. Scope: What is care.data? Scope content is shifting. and requests for scope purposes are changing already, from commissioning only to now include research and health intelligence. How will we patients know what we sign up to today, stays the purposes to which data may be used tomorrow?

2. Scope changes fair processing: We cannot sign up to one thing today, and find it has become something else entirely tomorrow without our knowledge. How will we be notified of any changes in what is to be extracted or change in how what has been extracted is to be used in future – a change notification plan?

3. Purposes clarity: Who will use which parts of our medical data for what? a: Clinical care vs secondary uses:

Given the widespread confusion – demonstrated on radio and in press after the pathfinders’ announcement – between care.data  which is for ‘secondary use’ only, i.e. purposes other than the direct care of the patient – and the Summary Care Record (SCR) for direct care in medical settings, how will uses be made very clear to patients and how it will affect our existing consent settings?

3. Purposes definition: Who will use which parts of our medical data for what?  b) Commercial use  It is claimed the Care Act will rule out “solely commercial”purposes, but how when what remains is a broad definition open to interpretation? Will “the promotion of health” still permit uses such as marketing? Will HSCIC give its own interpretation, it is after all, the fact it operates within the law which prescribes what it should promote and permit.

3. Purposes exclusion: Who will use which parts of our medical data for what?  c) Commercial re-use by third parties: When will the new contracts and agreements be in place? Drafts on the HSCIC website still appear to permit commercial re-use and make no mention of changes or revoking licenses for intermediaries.

4a. Opt out: It is said that patients who opt out will have this choice respected by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (i.e. no data will be extracted from their GP record) according to the Secretary of State for Health  [col 147] - but when will the opt out – currently no more than a spoken promise – be put on a statutory basis? There seem to be no plans whatsoever for this.

Further wider consents: how patients will know what they have opted into or out from is currently almost impossible. We have the Summary Care Record, Proactive care in some local areas, different clinical GP systems, the Electronic Prescription Service and soon to be Patient Online, all using different opt in methods of asking and maintaining data and consent, means patients are unsurprisingly confused.

4b. Opt out: At what point do you determine that levels of participation are worth the investment and of value? If parts of the population are not represented, how will it be taken into account and remain valuable to have some data? What will be statistically significant?

5. Legislation around security: The Care Act 2014 is supposed to bring in new legislation for our data protection. But there are no changes to date. Are they planned? If so, how have these been finalised and with what wording, will it be open to Parliamentary scrutiny?  The Government claim to have added legal protection is meaningless until the new Care Act Regulations are put in front of Parliament and agreed.

6. What of the Governance changes discussed?

There was a verbal agreement given to sanctions ‘one strike and out’ for misuse? Again, it is nothing more than words to date as far as the public can see.

There was some additional governance and oversight promised, but to date no public communication of changes to the data management groups through the HRA CAG or DAAG and no sight of the patient involvement promised.

7. Data security: The planned secure data facility (‘safe setting’) at HSCIC to hold linked GP and hospital data is not yet built for expanded volume of data and users expected according to Ciaran Devane at the 6th September event. When will it be ready for the scale of care.data?

Systems and processes on this scale need security designed, that scales up to match in size with the data and its use.

Will you proceed with a pilot which uses a different facility and procedures from the future plan? Or worse still, with extracting data into a setting you know is less secure than it should be?

8. Future content sharing: Where will NHS patients’ individual-level data go in the longer term? The current documentation says ‘in wave 1′ or phase one, which would indicate a future change is left open, and indicated identifiable ‘red’ data is to be shared in future?  “care.data will provide the longer term visions as well as […] the replacement for SUS.

9.  Current communications:

    • How will GPs and patients in ‘pathfinder’ practices be contacted?
    • Will every patient be written to directly with a consent form?
    • What will patients who opted out earlier this year be told if things have changed since then?
    • How will NHS England contact those who have retired or moved abroad recently or temporarily, still with active GP records?
    • How will foreign pupils’ parents be informed abroad and rights respected?
    • How does opt out work for sealed envelopes?
    • All the minorities with language needs or accessibility needs – how will you cater for foreign language, dialect or disability?
    • The homeless, the nomadic,  children-in-care
    • How can we separate these uses clearly from clinical care in the public’s mind to achieve a genuinely informed opinion?
    • How will genuine mistakes in records be deleted – wrong data on wrong record, especially if we only get Patient Online access second and then spot mistakes?
    • How long will data be retained for so that it is relevant and not excessive - Data Protection principle 3?
    • How will the communications cater for both GP records and HES plus other data collection and sharing?
    • If the plan is to have opt out effective for all secondary uses, communications must cater for new babies to give parents an informed choice from Day One. How and when will this begin?

No wonder you wanted first no opt out, then an assumed consent via opt out junk mail leaflet. This is hard stuff to do well. Harder still, how will you measure effectiveness of what you may have missed?

10. Pathfinder fixes: Since NHS England doesn’t know what will be effective communications tools, what principles will be followed to correct any failures in communications for any particular trial run and how will that be measured?

How will patients be asked if they heard about it and how will any survey, or follow up ensure the right segmentation does not miss measuring the hard to reach groups – precisely those who may have been missed?  i.e. If you only inform 10% of the population, then ask that same 10% if they heard of care.data, you would expect a close to 100% yes. That’s not reflective that the whole population was well informed about the programme.

If it is shown to have been ineffective, at what point do you say Fair Processing failed and you cannot legally proceed to extraction?

> This list doesn’t yet touch on the hundreds of questions generated from public events, on post-its and minutes. But it would be a start.

*******

References for remaining questions:

17th June Open House: Q&A

17th June Open House: Unanswered public Questions

Twelve point plan [March 2014] positive suggestions by Jeremy Taylor, National Voices

6th September care.data meeting in London

image quote: Winnie The Pooh, A.A. Milne

humanrights

Human Rights – real threats today vs theories of tomorrow

Theories on Thursday, furore on Friday. By Saturday the social media had hit the fan.

What we must remember whilst caught up in the recent Human Rights fuss, is that this is discussing a future theory. In practice, we are at risk of missing three* current and upcoming human rights threats, which are very real.

Whilst future policy change may already be doing harm to the spirit of the human rights law and those ideals today, current policies are having effect today in practice.

The Deregulation Bill, and other current policies and projects.

Regular readers will know, I have followed closely the care.data plans [see past posts] to extract our confidential GP medical records and centrally store, sell and share the information.

I hadn’t realised until recently why I care so strongly about doing this the right way. It simply felt wrong that the original plan was not to inform patients at all, and not ask for consent to remove the foundation stone of our confidentiality. The delayed plan, had a terrible junk-mail leaflet drop.

The current extraction plan is pending [roadmap end of page], but details unknown.

I have concerns about how it will harm the trust in the patient-GP relationship, potentially discriminate and segment certain groups and  I’m still unhappy how open the records will be for use by third parties, not for clinical care. There needs work done to make it done well, and to be transparent and trustworthy for patients.

But I’ve realised now, it feels wrong, simply because it impinges on one of our basic human rights. Our right to privacy.

This post is not about care.data per se, but the recent Bill of Rights debate made me take a closer look at the bigger picture.

There are many discussing this, far better informed on human rights than me. But perhaps it’s time the ordinary public pay more attention to our rights, and where they fit into our lives in the UK. Rights which are easily eroded if we don’t pay attention.

I’ve had a look at the current Bill proposal [my notes & comment at the end], but at least for now, I’m more concerned about the actual plans already underway, which will in  practice,  affect the application of our human rights today, and we may not know it.

There are at least three real changes in legislation right now which I believe should command our attention.

First, the Deregulation Bill.

This Bill will go to the Lords Committee stage on October 21st.

This is a real and present threat to human rights, as stated in the Joint Committee Report on Human Rights, June 14th 2014:

The Bill provides that a person exercising a regulatory function specified by the Minister:

 

The Government intends this economic growth duty to apply to the EHRC. We believe that applying this growth duty to the EHRC poses a significant risk to the EHRC’s independence, and therefore to its compliance with the Paris Principles and the Equal Treatment Directives as implemented by the Equality Act 2010. The Government is therefore risking the possibility of the EHRC’s accredited “A” status being downgraded and of putting the UK in breach of its obligations under EU equality law. Unless the continuing discussions between the Government and the Commission satisfy the Commission that the growth duty will not in any way impact upon its independence, we recommend that this duty not be applied to the EHRC.
Sections of the Deregulation Act currently passing through Parliament suggest the removal of any regulation that conflicts with the interests of a profit-maker. There are other domestic and regulatory bodies for which we should carefully consider this implication, not least from my perspective, in the NHS.

 

The Deregulation Bill creates a conflict when a law must consider commercial gain above human rights.

Further;

“The Bill would remove the power conferred on employment tribunals by the Equality Act to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases.”

 

The EHRC regards the power [conferred on employment tribunals] as useful, both for the employer to whom the recommendation is made and to the Commission itself for following up tribunal decisions, and it does not consider that sufficient evidence has been gathered to make out the case for abolition. We therefore recommend that the power of employment tribunals to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases should be retained.”

 

 

 

The Deregulation Bill also poses some concern for those interested in the requisition process for information, and press representation groups spoke out, worried it offers a back-door for seizing journalists’ material.

 

Seen all together, aspects of the Bill which is a mish-mash of all sorts of subjects, which was derided in some reports as being about knitting yarn, means it may well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing when it comes to human rights.

 

Second and Third, the recent changes in legislation & access

Other real threats to our universal human rights in the UK, I consider as points two and three, are already having an effect.

Recent legal changes to both a) the legal aid and b) the judicial review processes mean it is harder for many people to use the available processes due to cost.

(current consultation closing October 15th here and anyone can write to their MP for support, guidance at end of page.)

This results in inequality to use rights, which should be human rights for all by creating:

1. restrictions of individual access  (who can get a fair trial, the ability to appeal)

 

and

 

2. reducing the universality of application to human rights law (limiting the circumstances and reasons ‘the how and when’ under which rights may be applied)

 

 

These are the changes in progress right now. So what of the actual projects underway or recently effected?

 

Current threats in practice to our UK Human Rights

Mr. Grayling said this week that any future policy change will continue to ensure to promote the values of individual human dignity, equal treatment and fairness as the foundations of a democratic society. Many disagree.

The whole debate of this future policy change may already be doing real harm to the spirit of the law and those ideals today.

In my opinion, current actions are having real effect today in practice which risk undermining rather than strengthening our position towards universal human rights.

Current government policies and projects sign-post current thinking on the value of universal human rights and future direction.

Consider three things:

1. the recent changes which undermine access to use our rights, [access and universal applicability for all]
2. what value rights are given within current policies and practices,
3. the direction of travel in recent legislation, such as in surveillance, affecting universal rights for all.

It should come as no surprise then to hear of a more wholesale move towards the removal of rights in the proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act, and more. Steps have been taken on this path for some time.

A current sample of some areas with flaws in their approach to human rights include from my lay perspective:

If we in the ordinary public, in response to the proposals this week, are now concerned about about the theoretical threats to human rights by a potential future government, and care about getting it right, I’d suggest we:

don’t wait to worry about what might be in June next year. Encourage those who can, such as our MPs, to look at these real and practical human rights’ threats today. Support MPs & others who are.

Start the list, with the Deregulation Bill.  (Unless NHS England Patient & Information Directorate decide to begin care.data extractions before October 21st.) Watch this space.

************************
*there is clearly more of significance in this area, with which those better informed and active than me would say is missing, but with which I’ve not taken as close an interest. The Deregulation Bill will potentially affect NHS bodies, and I’ve looked at it before on care.data.

Notes on the proposals, and my references below:

************************

Reference sites:

The Deregulation Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 23 January 2014. It received its Second Reading in the Commons on 4 February 2014, completed its Committee Stage on 25 March and began its Report Stage on 14 May. The Bill has been carried over to the next Session of Parliament. The Bill was preceded by a draft Deregulation Bill which was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the ad hoc Joint Committee on the Draft Deregulation Bill.

************************
For your reference and to their credit, I’ve found the following three websites useful and kept up to date with care.data information:

Dr. Bhatia, GP in Hampshire’s care.data info site

HSCIC care.data site

medConfidential – campaign for confidentiality and consent in health and social care – seeking to ensure that every flow of data into, across and out of the NHS and care system is consensual, safe and transparent

******************

On Legal Aid – consultation responses or write to your MP: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/stories/moj-consultation-on-duty-crime-contracts-support-pack-for-member-responses/

******************

For reference – background Bil of Rights / scrapping the HRA

The theory

The outline future proposal this week suggested, “A majority Conservative Government will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act, and will end the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to order changes to British laws.” [Jack of Kent, October 2nd]

Some of these plans were discussed here> on the Daily Politics. From 32.30 minutes in.

The plans have been met with widespread criticism in the press and by campaigners showing where the plans are flawed.

Myths abound how human rights are applied inappropriately to whom, and how they lack common sense.

In contrast, real examples have been presented of when the Human Rights Act and ECHR have been used to enhance and protect UK citizens, not least in the Mirror.

Looking to the future, individuals have further pointed out the fundamental flaw if limits of application were to be brought in which would for example, not use the law for ‘trivial cases’.

Tim Hancock, campaigns director of Amnesty UK, said in the International Business Times of this week’s announcement: “This is electioneering on the backs of Europe’s most vulnerable.

“Under these plans human rights would be reserved for only those people the Government decides should get them.”

Whilst we may each have our own political opinions, it is valuable to stay outside them and see changes objectively.

We must also see past the UKIP defection, knee-jerk reaction which conflates everything ‘Europe’, into something from which which the UK could ‘opt out’. As long as Britain remains a signatory to the ECHR, UK citizens could still directly petition the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg to hear their case. In fact, could be more likely to, rather than go through the British courts first. These proposals conflate the 1951 Convention on Human Rights, the UK 1998 Human Rights Act and our rights under current European law, and more.

If next May, a Conservative majority were to be elected, this proposal might form a basis of proposed legislative changes.

It is highly unlikely to be as is, or without debate. It is a partisan approach which ignores the fact that cross parliamentary support would likely be needed, as was the case when Parliament voted in favour of the introduction of the UK Human Rights Act in 1998.

But that is an if, and thus far, actually moving towards this legislative change is theoretical.

 

 

human rights act 1998 header

Human Rights proposals – stripping away the Spirit of the Human Rights Act (1998)

News today confirms what has been on simmer for some time in England:

“A majority Conservative Government will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act, and will end the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to order changes to British laws.” [Jack of Kent, October 2nd]

The Rt Hon Lord Howard of Lympne, CH, QC said:

“The argument is not about human rights, to which we all subscribe […] the way in which the Convention on Human Rights has been interpreted is far removed from its founders’ intentions.

“We are simply restoring parliamentary sovereignty, and some much needed common sense, to our human rights laws.”

If it is truly only about common sense, everyone with common sense must support it. So why the wide press and social media uproar, and statements by other parties they would vote against such a proposal in Parliament?

“No, the argument today is whether arrangements such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act actually help to protect such rights or, by the way in which they have operated, bring the concept into disrepute.”

The argument appears to suggest, that there should be no need to be concerned about the removal of laws which ‘protect such rights’, that there is nothing to hide, nothing to fear. That in fact, we will do better by removing the framework which supports the common sense process. Common sense will operate and prevail without legislation.

If we believe the policy statement that under these changes, in effect, little would change for many people, why are the changes needed? By many accounts, many good results of the 1998 Act affect many of us.

Those much better informed than me, are debating this in the media and online, and is worth following. But I think we should be careful we don’t get so caught up in looking ahead, that we miss changes going on now.

The debate makes me ask myself, what is the purpose of a law, and whom should it serve?

If we are convinced change is needed, we assume a belief that the current process is flawed.  This comes in part from myths and misrepresentations in isolated cases. We should in discussion see past the UKIP defection, knee-jerk reaction which conflates everything ‘Europe’, into something from which which the UK could ‘opt out’ and what risks and benefit it would actually bring for whom.

Even if these changes were simply a case of choosing to ‘opt-out’ from the protections of the European Court for UK Citizens (which it is not) and even if one were to agree common sense can make better decisions without legal protection, one must consider that by removing the UK Human Rights Act [which had cross party support in 1998], and the European aspect of the laws, and by suggesting amendments to the 1951 European convention on human rights, changes would remove a layer of external protection and last support channel outside the UK system, for us as citizens.

Stripping away a spirit of Governance

Does this affect the opportunity for citizens and courts to benefit from external objectivity?

The 1998 Act was intended to reduce the number of cases going to the European Court. You can still take a case to the European Court, but the Human Rights Act meant a case has to go through the UK courts first. Whilst Scotland (and Wales to a lesser extent) has some devolved and historically founded independent law making processes, the 1998 Human Rights Act covers the whole of the UK. As does the ability to go to the European Courts as an extra layer of legal protection, guidance and enlightenment if exhausted at home. 

Will we no longer be able as legitimately, to call on bodies with cross-border, external best practices to learn from which has any accepted weight? Or cases to set precedence? But does the European Court have these powers anyway or do these policy statements just cause confusion?

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said the plans were flawed. The Tory MP said they would be “difficult to implement” and risked “undermining” the UK’s – and his own party’s – tradition of upholding human rights.
Proposals state: ‘In future ‘Britain’s courts would no longer be required to take into account rulings from the Court in Strasbourg. This would make our Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.’

The statement gives the strong impression that the UK will regain a lost level of independence as a deal for giving up a layer of objectivity and governance.

In fact, we would not do so by repealing the 1998 Human Rights Act, the European Court would keep its role in the UK in practice.

Liberty clarified: “The Human Rights Act did not make Strasbourg a precedent-setting Court, as the proposals claim. This proposal will not increase the Supreme Court’s constitutional standing. It is already the ultimate arbiter of human rights cases in the UK but, if we remain part of the Convention, British people will still be able to take claims to Strasbourg once domestic litigation is exhausted. The dilution of Convention rights proposed makes it more likely that Strasbourg will find against the UK. The Court has no ability to require the UK to change British laws. Parliamentary sovereignty is intact, as made clear by the non-implementation of the prisoner voting judgment. But the British Government has ratified the Convention and so undertaken to comply with its international law obligations to respect the decisions of the Court.” [Liberty]

However the side comments on the 1951 Convention are of much more concern to me.

Are the Conservative proposal really going so far as to say it would remove that Convention undertaking, and no longer respect international law? Surely not in practice, but in spirit, it seems to suggest just that.

They would seek to: “Clarify the Convention rights, to reflect a proper balance between rights and responsibilities.”

that would be a huge change with respect for our position towards international law.

It seems to suggest that there would be a trade off giving up the universally applicable nature in the 1951  convention on Human Rights, to enable selective decisions which and when, rights would apply.

 

Stripping away the rights which apply to all

The basic principles of universality, inalienability and indivisibility, [outlined here by Liberty] are under threat through these changes:

 

“Human rights are universal. They apply to all people simply on the basis of being human.

Human rights are inalienable. They cannot be taken away simply because we do not like the person seeking to exercise their rights. They can only be limited in certain tightly-defined circumstances and some rights, such as the prohibition on torture and slavery, can never be limited.

Human rights are indivisible. You cannot pick and choose which rights you want to honour. Many rights depend on each other to be meaningful – so, for example, the right to fair trial would be meaningless without the prohibition on discrimination, and the right to free speech must go hand in hand with the right to assemble peacefully.”

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy has taken apart some of the implications here. Her post is worth a thorough read.

Stripping away rights of access

 

It appears that we are moving towards a state in which the suggestion is that laws from the top down to control citizens’ rights will be applied universally, whilst at the same time, the rights of those who may feel unfairly treated by them are becoming restricted, through policy and in practical terms.

 

If British citizens would still be able to take claims to Strasbourg once domestic litigation is exhausted, they have to be able to not just in theory, but practice.

Courts which exist as channels to a fair appeal are only applicable to all as a right effectively, if they can be accessed by all. In the UK the  judicial review practices have changed on charging, which make universal access to judicial review harder. Recent changes to legal aid funding mean fewer people can afford access to representation.

 

This report from the International Council on Human Rights Policy may be ten years old, but is still I feel, relevant.

“…individuals, particularly those who are vulnerable because of exclusion, poverty and discrimination, unable to obtain benefits and rights to which they are entitled in law? This report examines the impediments that obstruct large numbers of people from accessing the full range of human rights. It analyses the performance and responsibilities of governments and other institutions, and identifies new forms of action that official and human rights organisations might need to undertake if access is to be improved.”

If Human Rights law is not accessible to all, and does not apply equally to all, it is not universal. Either not all are humans or they are not rights. Either way, the law is flawed.

 

I believe being universally applicable must also ensure universal access in order to be meaningful.

 

Stripping the Spirit of accepted Human Rights

Whilst the Acts  and declarations have legal weight which are of intrinsic importance and value, I believe it is also of importance to value the philosophy of the principles. It is this loss which worries me as much as the thought of losing concrete governance. We risk losing not only the protections of the law, but the Spirit of the law.

The spirit acts as an additional layer of conscience accompanying lawmakers and politicians in their decision making process.

I fear that he spirit of the values the state places on human rights,has been injured in recent times.

 I fear an ‘accepted’ element of barbarism has crept into our own humanity in the treatment of our ‘prisoners of war’.

 

The right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way is an absolute right. It should never be limited and it is a commonly held belief that there are no circumstances where this type of treatment of people can be justified.

 

However torture has become apparently justifiable recently. Justified by the highest authority in the US, some may see as the highest ‘western world power’. “We tortured some folks” was justified with the near flippant tone of a bumper sticker. Little official repercussion  appears to follow.

 

In doing so, the affiliated powers revealed how far we have fallen from our ideals of humanity embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Our values and self created global ethic in which some human rights are absolute.

It appears we have allowed through our government’s use of torture, an absolute boundary to be broken. So should we be surprised if that was only a first step? What is perceived as acceptable in how our government treats others, can only lead to a contagion in perception of what is right and acceptable in how others will treat our people abroad.

Crucially, I believe it also affects our own public perception of acceptance and ‘the norm’ in how we treat our own people.

Yet again, at home in human rights law, perception may be that this will not affect us. Not ‘our own’ kind of people. It will only affect ‘others’.

But the others in the case of human rights in the UK, may be our own gender or racial discrimination case at work. It may be how our friend or family member is treated by the authorities in sexual discrimination or in disability claims process.  Those in prison, the poor, minorities – these groups suit some agendas to portray as ‘other’. To thrive, I believe we must strive to remember our togetherness as a society which looks after one another, not treats ‘others’ as outside our realm of protections. As somehow, less ‘entitled’.  Less entitled to welfare. Less entitled to vote. Less entitled to universal rights.

If you think, no not me, then let’s consider closely our own reaction to the arrival of travellers in a local field. Or news of immigrants awaiting asylum rulings being housed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

It seems that to whom our human rights should apply, would become discretionary.

Are some Human Rights Claims more Trivial than Others? What about the same Human Rights for all?

If the majority of rights are non-absolute and can be limited or restricted in certain circumstances, we should not be surprised if these too are now trampled on if found to be ‘trivial’. The circumstances in which there is a need to take into account the rights of other individuals or wider society would become  discretionary.  How would that be defined and by whom?

“Limit the use of Human Rights laws to the most serious cases.”

There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, ensuring UK courts strike out trivial cases.

It appears that which subjects and in which circumstances individuals should be entitled access to human rights protection would become discretionary.

By saying some ‘trivial’ cases would not be relevant for consideration, you throw out the spirit of the universal applicability of Human Rights’ legislation.

Where does this leave the Spirit of our Human Rights in practice?

Politicians may say that in practice, any change will continue to ensure that:

But current reality is that changes have already made universal access to judicial review harder. Reality is that the changes to legal aid funding already means fewer people can afford access to representation. Minority groups find access a challenge. Mothers without means are representing themselves in divorce cases. People are facing abusers in court.

If now we further undermine both access and applicability, the reality is under the law some will be more equal than others.

So what of our basic principles?

Human rights are universal. They apply to all people simply on the basis of being human.

Human rights are inalienable. They cannot be taken away simply because we do not like the person seeking to exercise their rights.

Human rights are indivisible. You cannot pick and choose which rights you want to honour.

Whether this policy ever becomes reality or not, it harms the perception of the value we place on human rights, at home and abroad.

Universality of application and universal access are already under real threat, creating inequality for which humans, these laws offer support.

These proposals normalise what is in fact nonsense.

Whilst at least for now, it makes no difference in legal practice, I think the Spirit of Human Rights in the UK under this proposal, just had her wings stripped off.

 

***

Chris Grayling’s eight-page strategy paper http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1308660/protecting-human-rights-in-the-uk.txt

[Liberty useful listing of what the Human Rights Act covers.]

jilted

The care.data engagement – is it going to jilt citizens after all? A six month summary in twenty-five posts.

[Note update Sept 19th: after the NHS England AGM in the evening of Sept 18th – after this care.data engagement post published 18hrs earlier – I managed to ask Mr.Kelsey, National Director for Patients and Information, in person what was happening with all the engagement feedback and asked why it had not been made publicly available. He said that the events’ feedback will be published before the pathfinder rollout begins, so that all questions and concerns can be responded to and that they will be taken into account before the pathfinders launch. When might that be, I asked? ‘Soon’. Good news? I look forward to seeing that happen. My open questions on commercial uses and more, and those of many others I have heard, have been captured in previous posts, in particular the most recent at the end of this post.]

Medical data has huge power to do good, but it presents risks too. When leaked, it cannot be unleaked. When lost, public trust cannot be easily regained. That’s what broken-hearted Ben Goldacre wrote about care.data on February 28th of this year, ten days after the the pause was announced on February 18th [The Guardian] .

Fears and opinions, facts and analysis, with lots and lots of open questions. That’s what I’ve written up in the following posts related to care.data since then, including my own point-of-view and feedback from other citizens, events and discussions. All my care.data posts are listed here below, in one post, to give an overview of the whole story, and any progress in the six months ‘listening’ and ‘engagement’.

So what of that engagement? If there really have been all these events and listening, why has there been not one jot of public feedback published? This is from September 2014, I find it terrifyingly empty of anything but discussing change in communications of the status quo programme.

I was at that workshop, hosted by Mencap on communicating

with vulnerable and excluded groups the article mentions. It was carefully managed, with little open room discussion to share opinions cross groups (as the Senior Policy Adviser at Signature pointed out.) Whilst we got the NHS England compilation of the group feedback afterwards, it was not published. Maybe I should do that and ask how each concern will be addressed? I didn’t want to stand on the NHS England national comms. toes, assuming it would be, but you know, what? If the raw feedback says from all these meetings, these are our concerns and we want these changes, and none are forthcoming, then the public should justifiably question the whole engagement process.

It’s public money, and the public’s data. How both are used and why, is not to be hidden away in some civil service spreadsheet. Publish the business case. Publish the concerns. Publish how they are to be addressed.

 

From that meeting and the others I have been to, many intelligent questions from the public remain unanswered. The most recent care.data advisory workshop summarised many from the last year, and brought out some minority voices as well.

 

On the day of NHS Citizen, the new flagship of public involvement, people like me who attended the NHS England Open Day on June 17th, or care.data listening events, may be understandably frustrated that there is no publicly available feedback or plan of any next steps.  care.data didn’t make it into the NHS Citizen agenda for discussion for the 18th. [Many equally other worthy subjects did, check them out here if not attending or watch it online.] So from where will we get any answers? Almost all the comment, question and feedback I have heard at events has been constructively critical, and worthy of response. None is forthcoming.

 

Instead, the article above, this reported speech by Mr.Kelsey and its arguments, make me think engagement is going nowhere. No concerns are addressed. PR is repeated. More facts and figures which are a conflation of data use for clinical treatment and all sorts of other uses, are presented as an argument for gathering more data. Citizens do not need told of the benefits. We need concrete steps taken in policy, process and practice, to demonstrate why we can now trust the new  system. Only then is it worthwhile to come back to communications.

How valued is patient engagement in reality, if it is ignored? How will involvement continue to be promoted in NHS Citizen and other platforms, if it is seen to be ineffective? How might this affect future programmes and our willingness to get involved in clinical research?

I sincerely hope to see the raw feedback published very soon, which NHS England has gathered in their listening events. How that will be incorporated into any programme changes, as well as  communications, will go a long way to assuring the quantity in numbers and quality of cross-population participation.

The current care.data status is in limbo, as we await to see if and when any ‘pathfinder’ CCGs will be announced that will guinea pig the patient records from the GP practices in a trial rollout, in whatever form that may take. The latest official statements from Mr.Kelsey have been on 100-500 practices, but without any indicator of where or when. He appears to suggest ‘shortly’.

What next for care.data? I’ll keep asking the questions and hope we hear some answers from the NHS England Patients and Information Directorate. Otherwise, what was the [&88!@xY!] point of a six month pause and all these efforts and listening?

Publish the business case. Publish the concerns. Publish how they are to be addressed. What is there to hide?

After this six-month engagement, will there be a happy ending? I feel patients are about to be left jilted at the eleventh hour.
******

You’ll find my more recent posts [last] have more depth and linked document articles if you are looking for more detailed information.

******

March 31st: A mother’s journey – intro

March 31st: Transparency

April 3rd: Communication & Choice

April 4th: Fears & Facts

April 7th: What is care.data? Defined Scope is vital for Trust

April 10th: Raw Highlights from the Health Select Committee

April 12th: care.data Transparency & Truth, Remit & Responsibility

April 15th: No Security Blanket : why consent packages fail our kids

April 18th: care.data : Getting the Ducks in a Row

April 23rd: an Ode to care.data (on Shakespeare’s anniversary)

May 3rd: care.data, riding the curve: Change Management

May 15th: care.data the 4th circle: Empowerment

May 24th: Flagship care.data – commercial uses in theory [1]

June 6th: Reality must take Precedence over Public Relations

June 14th: Flagship care.data – commercial use with brokers [2]

June 20th: The Impact of the Partridge Review on care.data

June 24th: On Trying Again – Project Lessons Learned

July 1st: Communications & Core Concepts [1] Ten Things Learned at the Open House on care.data and part two: Communications and Core Concepts [2] – Open House 17th June Others’ Questions

July 12th: Flagship care.data – commercial use in Practice [3]

July 25th: care.data should be like playing Chopin – review after the HSCIC Data Sharing review ‘Driving Positive Change’ meeting

July 25th: Care.data should be like playing Chopin – but will it be all the right notes, in the wrong order? Looking forwards.

August 9th: care.data and genomics : launching lifeboats [Part One] the press, public reaction and genomics & care.data interaction

August 9th: care.data and genomics : launching lifeboats [Part Two] Where is the Engagement?

September 3rd: care.data – a Six Month Pause, Anniversary round up [Part one] Open questions: What and Who?

September 3rd: care.data – a Six Month Pause, Anniversary round up [Part two] Open questions: How, Why, When?

September 16th: care.data cutouts – Listening to Minority Voices Includes questions from those groups.

September 16th: care.data – “Anticipating Things to Come” means Confidence by Design

****

Questions, ideas, info & other opinions continue to be all welcome. I’ll do my best to provide answers, or point to source sites.

For your reference and to their credit, I’ve found the following three websites useful and kept up to date with news and information:

Dr. Bhatia, GP in Hampshire’s care.data info site

HSCIC care.data site

medConfidential – campaign for confidentiality and consent in health and social care – seeking to ensure that every flow of data into, across and out of the NHS and care system is consensual, safe and transparent

 

 

 

HM-studio-EDIT-1200x1179

care.data – “anticipating things to come” means confidence by design

“By creating these coloured paper cut-outs, it seems to me that I am happily anticipating things to come…I know that it will only be much later that people will realise to what extent the work I am doing today is in step with the future.” Henri Matisse (1869-1954) [1]
My thoughts on the care.data advisory event Saturday September 6th.  “Minority voices, the need for confidentiality and anticipating the future.”

Part one here>> Minority voices

This is Part two >> the need for confidentiality and anticipating the future.”

[Video in full > here. Well worth a viewing.]

Matisse – The cut outs

Matisse when he could no longer paint, took to cutting shapes from coloured paper and pinning them to the walls of his home. To start with, he found the process deeply unsatisfying. He felt it wasn’t right. Initially, he was often unsure what he would make from a sheet. He pinned cutouts to his walls. But tacking things on as an afterthought, rearranging them superficially was never as successful as getting it right from the start. As he became more proficient, he would cut a form out in one piece, from start to finish. He could visualise the finished piece before he started. His later work is very impressive, much more so in real life than on  screen or poster. His cut outs took on life and movement, fronds would hang in the air, multiple pieces which matched up were grouped into large scale collections of pieces on his walls. They became no longer just 2D shapes but 3D and complete pictures. They would tell a joined-up story, just as our flat 2D pieces of individual data will tell others the story of our colourful 3D lives once they are matched and grouped together in longitudinal patient tracking from cradle to grave.

Data Confidentiality is not a luxury

From the care.data advisory meeting on September 6th, I picked out the minority voices I think we need to address better.

In addition to the minority groups, there are also cases in which privacy, for both children and adults, is more important to an individual than many of us consider in the usual discussion. For those at risk in domestic violence the ability to keep private information confidential is vital. In the cases when this fails the consequences can be terrible. My local news  told this week of just such a woman and child whose privacy were compromised.

“It is understood that the girl’s mother had moved away to escape domestic violence and that her ex-partner had discovered her new address.” (Guardian, Sept 12th)

This story has saddened me greatly.  This could have been one of my children or their classmates.

These are known issues when considering data protection, and for example are addressed in the RCGP Online Roadmap (see Box 9, p20).

“Mitigation against coercion may not have a clear solution. Domestic violence and cyberstalking by the abuser are particularly prevalent issues.”

Systems and processes can design in good privacy, or poor privacy, but the human role is a key part of the process, as human error can be the weakest link in the security chain.

Yet as regards care.data, I’ve yet to hear much mention of preventative steps in place, except an opt out. We don’t know how many people at local commissioning levels will access how much of our data and how often. This may go to show why I still have so many questions how the opt out will work in practice, [5] and why it matters. It’s not a luxury, it can be vital to an individual. How much of a difference in safety, is achieved using identifiable vs pseudonymised data, compared with real individual risk or fear?


“The British Crime Survey (BCS) findings of stalking prevalence (highest estimate: 22% lifetime, 7% in the past year) give a 5.5% lifetime risk of interference with online medical records by a partner, and a 1.75% annual risk.”
This Online Access is for direct care use. There is a greater visible benefit for the individual to access their own data than in care.data, for secondary uses. But I’m starting to wonder, if in fact care.data is just one great big pot of data and the uses will be finalised later?Is this why scope is so hard to pin down?


The slides of who will use care.data included ‘the patient’ at this 6th September meeting. How, and why? I want to have the following  explained to me, because I think it’s fundamental to opt out. This is detailed, I warn you now, but I think really important:

How does the system use the Opt out?

If you imagine different users looking at the same item of data in any one record, let’s say prescribing history, then it’s the security role and how the opt out codes work which will determine who gets to see what.



I assume here, there are not multiple copies of “my medications” in my record.  The whole point of giant databases is real-time, synched data, so “my medications” will not be stored in one place in the Summary Care Record (SCR) and copied again in ‘care.data’ and a third time in my ‘Electronic Prescription Service (EPS). There will be one place in which “my medications” is recorded.


The label under which a user can see that data for me, is their security role, but to me largely irrelevant. Except for opt out.


I have questions: If I opt out of the SCR programme at my GP, but opt in at my pharmacy to the EPS, what have I opted in to? Who has permission to view “my medications”  in my core record now? Have I created in effect an SCR, without realising it?


[I realise these are detailed questions, but ones we need to ask if we are to understand and inform our decision, especially if we have responsibility for the care of others.]


If I want to permit the use of my record for direct care (SCR) but not secondary uses (care.data) how do the two opt outs work together,  and what about my other hospital information?


Do we understand what we have and have not given permission for and to whom?
If there’s only one record, but multiple layers of user access who get to see it,  how will those be built, and where is the overlap?
We should ask these questions on behalf of others, because these under represented groups and minorities cannot if they are not in the room.

Sometimes we all need privacy. What is it worth?

Individuals and minorities in our community may feel strongly about maintaining privacy, for reasons of discrimination, or of being ‘found out’ through a system which can trace them. For reasons of fear. Others can’t always see the reasons for it, but that doesn’t take away from the value it has for the person who wants it or their need for that human right to be respected. How much is it worth?

It seems the more we value keeping data private, the more the cash value it has for others. In 2013, the FT created a nifty calculator and in an interview with Dave Morgan, reckoned our individual data is worth less than $1. General details such as age, gender and location are in the many decimal place range of fractions of a cent. The more interesting your life events, the more you can add to your data’s total value. Take pregnancy as an example.  Or if you add genomic data it  goes up in market value again.

Whilst this data may on a spreadsheet be no more than a dollar amount, in real life it may have immeasurably greater value to us on which you cannot put a price tag. It may be part of our life we do not wish others to see into. We may have personal or medical data, or recorded experiences we simply do not want to share with anyone but our GP. We might want a layered option like this suggestion by medConfidential to allow some uses but not others. [6]

In this debate it is rare that we mention the PDS (Personal Demographic Service), which holds the name and core contact details of every person with and NHS number past and present, almost 80 million. This is what can compromise privacy, when the patient can be looked up by any A&E, everyone with Summary Care Record access on N3 with technical ability to do so. It is a weak link. The security system relies on human validations, effectively in audit ‘does this seem OK to have looked up?’  These things happen and can go unchecked for a long period without being traced.

Systems and processes on this scale need security designed, that scales up to match in size.

Can data be included but not cut out privacy?

Will the richness of GP record / care.data datasharing afford these individuals the level of privacy they want? If properly anonymised, it would go some way to permitting groups to feel they could stay opted in, and the data quality and completeness would be better. But the way it is now, they may feel the risks created by removing their privacy are too great. The care.data breadth and data quality will suffer as a consequence.

The requirement of care.data to share identifiable information we may not want to, and that it is an assumed right of others to do so, with an assumed exploitation for the benefit of UK plc, especially if an opt-out system proceeds, feels to many, an invasion of the individual’s privacy and right to confidentiality. It can have real personal consequences for the individual.

The right to be open, honest and trusting without fear of repercussion matters. It matters to a traveller or to someone fleeing domestic violence with fears of being traced. It matters to someone of transgender, and others who want to live without stigma. It matters to our young people.

The BMA recognised this with their vote for an opt-in system earlier this year. 

Quality & Confidence by Design

My favourite exhibition piece at Tate Britain is still Barbara Hepworth’s [3] Pelagos from 1946. It is artistically well reviewed but even if you know little of art, it is simply a beautiful thing to see. (You’re not allowed to touch, even though it really should be, and it makes you want to.) Carved from a single piece of wood, designed with movement, shape, colour and shadow. It contains a section of strings, a symbol of interconnectivity. (Barbara Hepworth: Pelagos[4]). Seen as a precious and valuable collection, the Hepworth room has its own guard and solid walls. As much as I would have liked to take pictures, photography was not permitted and natural light was too low. Visitors must respect that.

So too, I see the system design needs of good tech. Set in and produced in a changing landscape. Designed with the view in mind of how it will look completed, and fully designed before the build began, but with flexibility built in. Planned interconnectivity. Precise and professional. Accurate. And the ability to see the whole from the start. Once finished, it is kept securely, with physical as well as system-designed security features.

All these are attributes which care.data failed to present from its conception but appear to be in progress of development through the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Plans are in progress [6] following the Partridge Review, and were released on September 3rd, with forward looking dates. For example, a first wave of audits is scheduled for completion 1/09 for four organisations. HSCIC will ‘pursue a technical solution to allow data access, w/out need to release data out to external orgs. Due 30/11.’ These steps are playing catch up, with what should have been good governance practices and procedures in the past. It need not be this way for GP care.data if we know that design is right, from the start.

As I raised on Saturday, at the Sept 6th workshop advisory committee, and others will no doubt have done before me, this designing from the start matters.  Design for change of scope, and incorporating that into the communications process for the future is vital for the pathfinders. One thing will be certain for pathfinder practices, there will be future changes.

This wave of care.data is only one step along a broad and long data sharing path

To be the best of its kind, care.data must create confidence by design, build-in the solutions to all these questions which have been and continue to be asked. We should be able to see today the plans for what care.data is intended to be when finished, and design the best practices into the structure from the start. Scope is still a large part of that open question. Scope content, future plans, and how the future project will manage its change processes.

As with Matisse, we must ask the designers, planners and comms/intelligence and PR teams, please think ahead  ”anticipating things to come”. Then we can be confident that we’ve  something fit for the time we’re in, and all of our kids’ futures. Whether they’ll be travellers, trans, have disabilities, be in care or not.  For our majority and all our minorities. We need to build a system that serves all of the society we want to see. Not only the ‘easy-to-reach’ parts.

”Anticipating things to come” can mean anticipating problems early, so that costly mistakes can be avoided.

Anticipating the future

One must keep looking to design not for the ‘now’ but for tomorrow. Management of future change, scope and communication is vital to get right.

This is as much a change process as a technical implementation project. In fact, it is perhaps more about the transformation, as it is called at NHS England, than the technology.The NHS landscape is changing – who will deliver our healthcare. And the how is changing too, as telecare and ever more apps are rolled out. Nothing is constant, but change. How do we ensure everyone involved in top-down IT projects understands how the system supports, but does not drive change? Change is about process and people. The system is a tool to enable people. The system is not the goal.

We need to work today to be ahead of the next step for the future. We must ensure that processes and technology, the way we do things and the tools that enable what we do, are designing the very best practices into the whole, from the very beginning. From the ground up. Taking into account fair processing of Data Protection Law, EU law – the upcoming changes in EU data protection law –  and best practice. Don’t rush to bend a future law in current design or take a short cut in security for the sake of speed. Those best practices need not cut out the good ethics of consent and confidentiality. They can co-exist with world class research and data management. They just need included by design, not tacked on, and superficially rearranged afterwards.

So here’s my set of challenge scenarios for NHS England to answer.

1. The integration of health and social care marches on at a pace, and the systems and its users are to follow suit. How is NHS England ensuring the building of a system and processes  which are ‘anticipating by design’ these new models of data management for this type of care delivery, not staying stuck on the model of top-down mass surveillance database, planned for the last decade?

2. How will NHS England audit that a system check does not replace qualified staff decisions, with algorithms and flags for example, on a social care record? Risk averse, I fear that the system will encourage staff to be less likely to make a decision that goes against the system recommendation, ‘for child removal’, for example. Even though their judgement based on human experience, may suggest a different outcome. What are the system-built-in assumed outcomes – if you view the new social care promotional videos at least it’s pretty consistent. The most depressing stereo typed scenarios I’ve seen anywhere I think. How will this increase in data and sharing, work?

“What makes more data by volume, equal more intelligence by default?”

Just like GP call centre OOH today, sends too many people calling the 111 service to A&E now, I wonder if a highly systemised social care system risks sending too many children from A&E into social care? Children who should not be there but who meet the criteria set by insensitive algorithms or the converse risk that don’t, and get missed by over reliance on a system, missing what an experienced professional can spot.

3. How will the users of the system use their system data, and how has it been tested and likely outcomes measured against current data? i.e. will more or fewer children taken into care be seen as a measure of success? How will any system sharing be audited in governance and with what oversight in future?

Children’s social care is not a system that is doing well as it is today, by many accounts, you only need glance at the news most days, but integration will change how is it delivers service for the needs of our young people. It is an example we can apply in many other cases.

What plan is in place to manage these changes of process and system use? Where is public transparency?

care.data has to build in consent, security and transparency from the start, because it’s a long journey ahead, as data is to be added incrementally over time. As our NHS and social care organisational models are changing, how are we ensuring confidentiality and quality built-in-by-design to our new health and social care data sharing processes?

What is set up now, must be set up fit for the future.

Tacking things on afterwards, means lowering your chance of success.

Matisse knew, “”Anticipating things to come” can mean being positively in step with the future by the time it was needed. By anticipating problems early, costly mistakes can be avoided.”

*****

Immediate information and support for women experiencing domestic violence: National Domestic Violence, Freephone Helpline 0808 2000 247

*****

[1] Interested in a glimpse into the Matisse exhibition which has now closed? Check out this film.

[2] Previous post: My six month pause round up [part one] http://jenpersson.com/care-data-pause-six-months-on/

[3] Privacy and Prejudice: http://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/privacy-and-prejudice-views This study was conducted by The Royal Academy of Engineering (the Academy) and Laura Grant Associates and was made possible by a partnership with the YTouring Theatre Company, support from Central YMCA, and funding from the Wellcome Trust and three of the Research Councils (Engineering and Physical and Sciences Research Council; Economic and Social Research Council and Medical Research Council).

[4]  Barbara Hepworth – Pelagos – in Prospect Magazine

[5] Questions remain open on how opt out works with identifiable vs pseudonymous data sharing requirement and what the objection really offers. [ref: Article by Tim Kelsey in Prospect Magazine 2009 “Long Live the Database State.”]
[6] HSCIC current actions published with Board minutes
[8] NIB https://app.box.com/s/aq33ejw29tp34i99moam/1/2236557895/19347602687/1
*****

More information about the Advisory Group is here: http://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/tsd/ad-grp/

More about the care.data programme here at HSCIC - there is an NHS England site too, but I think the HSCIC is cleaner and more useful: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/3525/Caredata

 

matisse

care.data – the cut-outs: questions from minority voices

“By creating these coloured paper cut-outs, it seems to me that I am happily anticipating things to come…I know that it will only be much later that people will realise to what extent the work I am doing today is in step with the future.” Henri Matisse (1869-1954) [1]

My thoughts on the care.data advisory event Saturday September 6th.  “Minority voices, the need for confidentiality and anticipating the future.”

[Video in full > here. Well worth a viewing.]

After taking part in the care.data advisory group public workshop 10.30-1pm on Saturday Sept 6th in London, I took advantage of a recent, generous gift; membership of the Tate. I went to ‘Matisse – the cut outs’ art exhibition.  Whilst looking around it was hard to switch off the questions from the morning, and it struck me that we still have so many voices not heard in the discussion of benefits, risk and background to the care.data programme. So many ‘cut out’ of any decision making.

Most impressive of the morning, had been the depth and granularity of questions which were asked.  I have heard varying aspects of questions at public events, and the subject can differ a little based on the variety of organisations involved. However, increasingly, there are not new questions, rather I hear deeper versions of the questions which have already been asked, over the last eighteen months. Questions which have been asked intensely in the last 6 months pause, since February 2014 [2] and which remain unanswered. Those from the care.data advisory committee and hosting the event, said the same thing based on a previous care.data advisory event also.

What stood out, were a number of minority group voices.

A representative for the group Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) raised a number of excellent questions, including that of communications and ‘home’ GP practices for the Traveller community. How will they be informed about care.data and know where their ‘home’ practice is and how to contact them? Whose responsibility will that be?

I spoke with a small group a few weeks ago simply about NHS use in general. One said they feared being tracked down through a government system [which was used for anything other than clinical care]. They register with new names if they need to access A&E. That tells you already how much they trust ‘the system’. For the most part, he said, they would avoid NHS care unless they were really desperately in need and beyond the capability of their own traveller community ‘nurse’. The exception was childbirth when this group said they would encourage expectant mums to go into hospital for delivery. They must continue to do so when they need to and must feel safe to do so. Whether in general they may use primary care or not, many travellers are registered at GPs, and unless their names have been inadvertently cleansed recently, they should be contacted before any data extraction as much as anyone else.

Our NHS is constitutionally there for all. That includes groups who may be cut off from mainstream inclusion in society, through their actions, inaction or others’ prejudice. Is the reality in this national programm actively inclusive? Does it demonstrate an exemplary model in practice of what we hear said the NHS aims to promote?

Transgender and other issues

The question was posed on twitter to the event, whether trans issues would be addressed by care.data. The person suggested, that the data to be extracted would “out us as probably being trans people.” As a result,  she said “I’d want to see all trans ppl excluded from care.data.”

Someone who addressed ‘her complex gender identity’ through her art, was another artist I respect, Fiore de Henriquez. She was ‘shy of publicity.’ One of her former studios is filled with work based on two faces or symbiotic heads, aside from practice pieces for her more famous commissioned work.For her biography she insisted that nothing be concealed. “Put in everything you can find out about me, darling. I am proud to be hermaphrodite, I think I am very lucky, actually.” However, in her lifetime she acknowledged the need for a private retreat and was shy until old age, despite her flamboyant appearance and behaviour. You can see why the tweet suggested excluding any transgender data or people.

‘Transgender issues’ is an upcoming topic to be addressed at the NHS Citizen even on 18th September as well. How are we making sure these groups and the ‘other’ conditions, are not forgotten by care.data and other initiatives? Minorities included by design will be better catered for, and likely to participate if they are not simply tacked on as an afterthought, in tick-box participation

However, another aspect of risk is to be considered – missing minorities 

Any groups who opt themselves out completely, may find that they and their issues are under represented in decision making about them by commissioners and budget planning for example.  If authorities or researchers choose to base decisions only on care.data these discrepancies will need taken into account.

Ciarán Devane highlighted this two-sided coin of discrimination for some people. There are conditions which are excluded from care.data scope. For example HIV. It is included in HARS reporting, but not in care.data. Will the conditions which are excluded from data, be discriminated against somehow? Why are they included in one place, not in another, or where data is duplicated in different collections, where is it necessary, where is the benefit? How can you make sure the system is safe and transparent for minorities’ data to be included,  and not find their trust undermined by taking part in a system, in which they may have fears about being identified?

Missing voices

These are just two examples of groups from whom there had been little involvement or at least public questions asked, until now. The traveller and transgender community. But there are many, notably BME, and many many others not represented at any public meetings I have been at. If they have been well represented elsewhere, any raw feedback, with issues addressed, is yet to be shared publicly.

Missing voices – youth

A further voice from which we hear little at meetings, because these meetings have been attended as far as I have seen so far, mainly by older people, is the voice of our youth.

They are left out of the care.data discussion in my opinion, but should be directly involved. It is after all, for them that we need to think most how consent should work, as once in, our data is never deleted.

Whilst consent is in law overridden by the Health and Social Care Act, it is still the age old and accepted ethical best practice. If care.data is to be used in research in future, it must design best practices now, fit for their future purposes.

How will our under-18s future lives be affected by choices others make now on their behalf?

Both for them as the future society and as individuals. Decisions which will affect research, public health planning and delivering the NHS service provision as well as decisions which will affect the risk of individual discrimination or harm, or simply that others have knowledge about their health and lifestyle which they did not choose to share themselves.

Some people assume that due to social networks, young people don’t care about privacy. This is just not true. In fact, studies show that younger people are more conscious of the potential harm to their reputation, than we may want to give them credit for.

This Royal Academy of Engineering report, [3]” Privacy and Prejudice – Young People’s views on the Development of Electronic Patient Records” produced in conjunction with Wellcome from 2010, examines in some depth, youth opinions of 14-18 year olds.  It tackles questions on medical data use: consent, control and commercialism. The hairy questions are asked about teen access to records, so when does Gillick become applied in practice and who decides?

The summary is a collection of their central questions and its discussion towards the end, which are just as valid for care.data today, as well as for considering in the Patient Online discussion for direct care access. I hope you’ll take time to read it, it’s worth it.

And what about the Children?

Some of our most vulnerable, will have their data and records held at the HSCIC. There are plans for expansion rapidly into social care data management, aligned with the transformation of health and social services. Where’s the discussion of this? Does HSCIC even have the legal capacity to handle children’s social care data?

How will at-risk groups be safer using this system in which their identities are less protected? How will the information gathered be used intelligently in practice to make a difference and bring benefit? What safeguards are in place?

“Future releases of new functionality are planned over the next 12 months, including the introduction of the Child Protection – Information Sharing application which will help to improve the protection of children who have previously been identified as vulnerable by social services.” (ref: HSCIC Spine transition)

“Domestic violence can affect anyone, but women,
transgender people and people from BME groups are at higher risk than the general population.”
(Ref: Islington’s JSNA Executive Summary – 9 – August 2014)

 

We must ask these questions about data sharing and its protection on behalf of others, because these under represented groups and minorities cannot themselves, if they are not in the room.

Where’s the Benefit?

We should also be asking the question raised at the event, about the benefits compared with the data already shared today. “Where’s the benefit?”, asked another blogger some time ago, raising his concerns for those with disabilities. We should be asking this about new dating sharing vs the many existing research databases and registries we already have, with years of history. Ciarán Devane wisely asked this on the 6th, succinctly asking what attendees had expressed.

“It will be interesting to know if they can demonstrate benefits. Not just: ‘Can we technically do this?’ but: ‘If we see primary care data next to HES data, can we see something we didn’t see before’?”

An attendee at the Healthwatch run care.data event in Oxford last week, asked the same thing. NHS England and IT providers would, one would think, be falling over themselves to demonstrate the cost/benefit, to show why this care.data programme is well managed compared with past failures. There is form on having expensive top down programmes go awry at huge public expense and time and effort. On NpfIT “the NAO also noted that “…it was not demonstrated that the financial value of the benefits exceeds the cost of the Programme.”

Where is the benefits case for care.data, to weigh against the risks? I have yet to see a publicly available business case.

The public donation

Like my museum membership, the donation of our data will be a gift. It deserves to be treated with the respect that each individual should deserve if you were to meet them face-to-face in the park.

As I enjoyed early evening sun  leaving the exhibition, the grassy area outside was packed with people. There were families, friends, children, and adults on their own. A woman rested heavily pregnant, her bump against her partner. Children chased wasps and stamped on empty cans. One man came and sold me a copy of the Big Issue, I glimpsed a hearing aid tucked into a young woman’s beehive hair, one amputee, a child with Down Syndrome giggling with a sister. Those glimpses of people gave me images I could label without a second glance. Disabled. Deaf. Downs. There were potentially conditions I could not see in others. Cancer. Crohn’s. Chlamydia. Some were drinking wine, some smoking. A small group possibly high. I know nothing about any of those individuals. I knew no names, no addresses. Yet I could see some familial relationships. Some connections were obvious. It struck me, that they represented part of a care.data population, whom buyers and researchers  may perceive as only data. I hope that we remember them as people. People from whom this programme wants to extract knowledge of their lifestyles and lives, and who have rights to express if, and how they want to share that knowledge. How will that process work?

Pathfinders - the rollout challenges that remain?

At the advisory group led meeting it was confirmed that pathfinders, would be chosen shortly.

[CCGs were subsequently announced here,  see related links, end of page for detail, note added Oct 7th]

But  the care.data programme is “still delivering without a business case”.  Despite this, “between two and four clinical commissioning groups will be selected, “in the coming weeks” to begin the pathfinder stage of the care.data programme, ” reports NIB meeting[8]

It reports what was discussed at the meeting.

“The pathfinders will test different communication strategies before moving forward with the data extraction part of the project.”

I for one would be extremely  disappointed if pathfinders go ahead in the ‘as is’ mode.  It’s not communications which is the underlying issue still. It’s not communications that most people ask about. It’s questions of substance, to which, there appear to be still insufficient information to give sound answers.

Answers would acknowledge the trust in confidentiality owed to the individual men, women, and children whose data this is. The people represented by those in the park. Or by the fifty who gave up their time on a sunny Saturday to come and ask their questions. Many without pay or travel expenses just giving up their time. Bringing their questions in search of some answers.

The pathfinder communications cannot be meaningfully trialled to meet the needs of today and the future design, when the substance of key parts of the message is uncertain. Like scope.

The care.data advisory group and the Health and Social Care Information Centre , based on the open discussion at the workshop both appear to be working, “anticipating things to come…” and to be doing their best to put processes and change in place today, which will be “in step with the future.”

To what extent that is given the right tools, time and support to be successful with all of the public, including our minorities, I don’t know. It will depend largely now on the answers to all the open questions, which need to come from the Patients and Information Directorate at the Commissioning Board, NHS England.

After all, as Mr.Kelsey himself says,

“The NHS should be engaging, empowering and hearing patients and their carers throughout the whole system all the time. The goal is not for patients to be the passive recipients of increased engagement, but rather to achieve a pervasive culture that welcomes authentic patient participation.”

What could be less empowering than to dismiss patient rights?

The challenge is: how will the Directorate at NHS England ensure to meet all these technical, governance and security needs, and yet put the most important factors first in the design; confidentiality and the voice of the empowered patient: the voice of Consent?

*****

This post captured my thoughts on the care.data advisory event Saturday September 6th.  “Minority voices, the need for confidentiality and anticipating the future.” This was about the people side of things. Part two, focuses on the system part of that.

*****

Immediate information and support for women experiencing domestic violence: National Domestic Violence, Freephone Helpline 0808 2000 247

*****

[1] Interested in a glimpse into the Matisse exhibition which has now closed? Check out this film.

[2] Previous post: My six month pause round up [part one] http://jenpersson.com/care-data-pause-six-months-on/

[3] Privacy and Prejudice: http://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/privacy-and-prejudice-views This study was conducted by The Royal Academy of Engineering (the Academy) and Laura Grant Associates and was made possible by a partnership with the YTouring Theatre Company, support from Central YMCA, and funding from the Wellcome Trust and three of the Research Councils (Engineering and Physical and Sciences Research Council; Economic and Social Research Council and Medical Research Council).

[4]  Barbara Hepworth – Pelagos – in Prospect Magazine

[5] Questions remain open on how opt out works with identifiable vs pseudonymous data sharing requirement and what the objection really offers. [ref: Article by Tim Kelsey in Prospect Magazine 2009 “Long Live the Database State.”]
[6] HSCIC current actions published with Board minutes
[8] NIB https://app.box.com/s/aq33ejw29tp34i99moam/1/2236557895/19347602687/1

 

*****

More information about the Advisory Group is here: http://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/tsd/ad-grp/

More about the care.data programme here at HSCIC - there is an NHS England site too, but I think the HSCIC is cleaner and more useful: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/3525/Caredata

 

rose

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose #indyref

“O my Luve’s like a red, red rose, that’s newly sprung in June:       O my Luve’s like the melodie, That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, so deep in luve am I;                 And I will luve thee still, my dear, Till a’ the seas gang dry. […]”

Robert Burns, 1759-1796 [aged 37]

You can listen to the full poem sung by Suzy Bogguss

I will tell you something about me, you may not know. I am Scottish but I live in England. Friends and I hold a Burns Supper every year. What began as a one off, was repeated in a different home, with the same dozen guests a year later. So a tradition was born to celebrate the life and works of  Scotland’s most famous export.

“His national pride, fierce egalitarianism, and quick wit have become synonymous with the Scottish character itself.”      Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Dumfries

Burns was famous for his belief in equality, and his poem “Is There for Honest Poverty“, commonly known as “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” of 1795 declared a stance in society, seen today as the rise of a liberalism, which is declared the world over today still. It is often used by the Freemasons as Burns was at the time of his death. It is the fierce pride in humanity of man that infuses Burns’ work and which has transcended time. His love poetry, and rural recordings, being ‘ahead of his time’ made him memorable. But I feel it was his awareness and discussion of identity and social-economic politics which still inspires and what makes his work contemporary.

The Burns Night Declaration

Perhaps it is some of that inspiration that Westminster hoped to capture by naming the latest political deal, granting Scotland more rights which Mr. Brown pledged this week, “The Burns Night Declaration.”

Scots have been promised “modern home rule within the United Kingdom” on a breakneck timetable on Monday if they rejected independence next week.”

From a personal perspective

I think there is a real chance of a yes vote. If Scotland were to vote for independence next week, I will celebrate the freedom, with a divided allegiance. The Scottish ‘heart’ in me will stir with a rallying cry and remember my ancestors who died on the fields of Bannockburn. My English ‘head’ will be disappointed, as I worry for the country downsizing to the size of Denmark will be a shock, and not fully thought out change, without a leader who can bring the whole country together.  I foresee a future in which the Celts are ruled still rather than greater independence for Scotland, with more dominant powers from Brussels instead of London as they seek strength and support as they once did with France in the Auld Alliance, rallying against English oppression. Should there be a yes vote, I will be dispirited, whilst clinging to optimism of change.

I have concerns about the economy, research investment, about its potential effect on the NHS and education provision, arguably better for the people than in England today. But in the end, my concerns don’t count, it is for the Scots in Scotland to decide.

As a Scot living in England, I have no vote. For my part, that is quite alright. For another Scot I know who fully intends moving back ‘up North’ and going ‘home’ in some years time, she is devastated at the thought of Scotland going solo, and that she has no say. Her sister still in Scotland, who can vote, was among those who received a letter in which she felt that it hinted that her employer, the Job Centre, may be put in jeopardy from a yes vote. [She may be right if DWP would need to be significantly ‘disentangled’ according to this report.] She’s considering voting yes anyway. Why?

Because at local level she thinks their jobs are in jeopardy of potential outsourcing regardless of the vote.

Because she’s lived through years of ‘better together’ and has seen only a decline in standards of living and no one has seemed to really seek to change that. She may not realise, Scotland is not alone in this, but with little elected power in Westminster, they may see independence as their only hope of change.

Because she feels democratically disempowered. No matter who she votes for today, it still results in not getting who they want in charge of government, and no way to oust them if a few areas of England vote that person in. The overall budget control for Scottish spending comes from Westminster. And lastly, in terms of governance, whilst necessary, adding experience and a system of ‘check and balance’ on legislation, the unelected House of Lords sits only in London and can appear accountable to no one, never mind the Scots.

How may politics be affected by the outcome?

I hear many people have had enough of imposed rule as they see it and disconnected leaders. One may think through devolution, more powers for Holyrood would have satisfied the desire for autonomy, but in fact people are fed up with the rhetoric  of the political rule from both Westminster and Edinburgh.

Many dislike the leadership choices on offer [latest FullFact poll stats here Sept 11th]. Women in particular appear to consider this important in their decision. Should the yes vote win, it will not necessarily be a win for Mr. Salmond, but a win for independence.

Key is, what will that independence really look like? It will be interesting to see. Would it be what Mr. Salmond expects? What scenarios have been thought out [1], debated, and what may have been missed?

The red rose of Labour has become faded in Scotland.  This has and  will continue to have an impact on future General Elections. I believe however, it must be encouraged to continue to grow, come back and actively thrive in Scotland regardless of this vote outcome. All mainstream parties would do well consider this, above party politics. There is a risk that the disenchantment with mainstream politics will give rise to more extreme factions. A sense of identity is a good thing, but at its extreme can be twisted into a damaging minority view of nationalism which is based on one group view over another, the real-world diversity of a nation excluded. Should mainstream parties leave a vacuum in the garden of Scottish politics, others will be quick to fill it, and it is often ugly weeds which take root fastest.

How has the People’s involvement in politics been affected?

Perhaps the best thing about this campaign has been an awakening. An awakening of people’s role in the democratic process, exemplified by the planned march on voting day in one area of Glasgow.  Where low turnout is typical organisers aim to stir people and carry them with them, to the polls, [which may or may not be legal electoral practice]. There has been an unprecedented number of electoral registrations.  But also an awakening of the big parties that your action and inaction matters. It has been forgotten in recent apathy. This awakening will not be restricted to Scotland, and politicians across Europe should learn from these experiences quickly, as calls for independence in other places are bound to come.

The Scots are inspirational to many.  Whilst fiction, the spirited speech of William Wallace in Braveheart calls to the basic instinct in us all, for freedom. We Scots have a strong sense of history as part of our identity. Entwined in that is the relationship between the wealthy landed Scots and the English nobility, and the complex succession of the throne and in-fighting of Scots lairds.  Who sided with whom, when and how trust was won and lost became glorified legend in Rob Roy and Braveheart, but it’s not all based on fiction, but historical fact.

What has been perhaps unfairly represented by some media headlines and survey statistics, is the image of how “the English” feel about “the Scots” and how the two countries would be after a yes vote. One survey showed well over 66% in favour of the Union, but the survey chose to represent a subjective statement on currency as its headline, for example. Poll upon poll state conflicting measures as ‘fact’. It is hard to separate fact from feeling in an emotive debate.

A Troubled Relationship

If you are not Scottish, you may or may not be familiar with the Scot’s spirit of the everyday, not celebrities nor stereotypes. If you have time, listen to this speech, a Burns night reply from the lassies. It gives the ladies a chance to ‘get their neb in’. (4.28) It’s meant to be tongue in cheek and irreverent, and not to take the subject too seriously, and this hits the spot. But mainly because it hints at something of what matters to Scots  in a speech about Burns.  In particular it’s worth considering this one snippet. With humour she tells us what matters above politics and above class, is relationships and communication. It is the relationship and communication that has broken down between Westminster and the people in Scotland which may be the Union’s  downfall. The Scottish People feeling neglected, had stopped talking to Westminster a long time ago, and Westminster didn’t notice.

Robert Burns understood People

Burns was a poet, a man of love and passion. A man of the heart. A man popular with women, a philanderer, yet perhaps one of the first feminists? Not a warrior, not a career politician, he was a man for the people. He recognised women’s rights above and amongst politics, and spoke up on our behalf:

“While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of empires and the fall of kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.”

Visiting politicians would do well to appeal to the rights of women as Burns did. I believe that it is not a romantic notion of freedom, which will lead to a majority of the yes vote. It is another practical aspect of life exemplified in Burns’s poetry which matters to people today, and how we live. It can affect all, but disproportionally affects women, it is poverty:

Visiting Scotland I have seen an increase in poverty and hardship in recent years, and experienced the Scots’ spirit which has refused to give in and tries to resiliently ride above it. Scotland has found life economically tough in the last twenty years. Bit by bit, it has seen its shipbuilding, steel making and coal mining weaned away with few jobs to replace those hard industries. Farming and fishing on small scale has become harder to compete worldwide. Scots believe in society and living well together. They’ve seen the right to a pursuit of happiness undermined at every turn, in the ideology focused on the economic wealth development of the individual. Westminster may have woken up too late to the effects that has had over years of neglect and apparent blinkered ignorance “down South”.
Politicians could learn from Burns

These last minute efforts of visiting politicians may or may not be planned in the campaign.  But as Burns said,

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”

The politicians may visit all they like, for a day or a week, better late than never. It will not make or break the majority of voters, voting with their head based on practical matters, but it may influence the ‘don’t noes’ the ‘vote for freedom’ who vote only with the heart at the last minute, and influence enough to swing the outcome. The majority of people will decide based not on last ditch efforts and promises, but on how they want to live, and what kind of society they want to see. Will speeches and promises made in a week, override experiences of many years? Or will they swing an influential minority?

The question is how convinced will voters be of the need for a complete break from the United Kingdom and true independence with its associated risk, versus the offering in the Burns Night Declaration? How much will heart rule the head or vice versa?

Whichever way the vote may go, how will mainstream political parties react and cultivate the long term relationship between Scotland and England? There will be a period between the vote and enactment. How will uncertainty be handled in that interim? How will the yes and no factions keep talking to one another, and grow as one nation, whether in a united, devolved or separate states?

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose

Scotland whichever path you choose to take, I will follow your decision closely.  Whatever happens next week, some will be broken hearted. I hope I won’t be among them. And I hope that for those who are disappointed with the outcome, we will all be kind, encouraging and not seek to blame, as we go about restoring our trust, our relationships and grow together in a positive, new direction. Society cannot afford a political vacuum which will provide space for the weeds of extremism to grow between us.

Wherever we are born, it is not unexpected to continue to have positive feelings for that country, as our birthplace. I may have left over thirty years ago, but my heart is still in the Highlands. I still love Scotland and hope she still loves us enough to stay together.

But I’ll understand if not.

“But to see her was to love her,
Love but her, and love forever.
Had we never lou’d sae kindly,
Had we never lou’d sae blindly,
Never met – or never parted –
We had ne’er been broken hearted”

Robert Burns, 1759-1796

***

[1] Governing after the Referendum – by the Institute for Government  http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Scenarios%20paper%20-%20final%20APJR.pdf 

 

Thinking to some purpose