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15 September 2006

Young people wary of new database

Teenagers say they might stop using contraception and abortion services because they do not trust the confidentiality of the new national children's database, claim researchers.

Research by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) found that the Children’s Information Sharing Index is causing anxiety and arousing suspicion, reported the Daily Telegraph. Some of the young people polled felt that the sharing of information among doctors, teachers, social workers and the police could ‘exacerbate rather than solve’ problems because confidential advice about abortions, obtaining contraceptives under age, or getting treatment for sexual diseases could get in the ‘wrong hands’.

The young people, aged 14 to 20, polled by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children for the OCC, said that they may be deterred from using family planning and mental health services if they thought information about their use was not confidential.

The index will be launched in 2008 in England and Wales at an initial cost of £224 million. The government says that to protect youngsters, the state must gather records on 12 million children and their families. Information held in separate local databases – family doctors’ records, nursery reports, children’s examinations – will be put into one system. Ministers claim that this gigantic database will be completely confidential, but critics say they cannot make this claim when 400,000 civil and public servants will have access to the information.

Doctors, teachers and social workers and the police will for the first time be able to access each others’ files. Critics say this will destroy teacher/parent and patient/doctor confidentiality. Ministers say the index will not contain case information but will record all the professionals with whom a child is in contact. It will record use of ‘sensitive services’ only with the consent of young people or carers, and access to this will be ‘strictly controlled’. The research is part of the OCC’s work to ensure that the views of young people are taken into account during the planning of the index.

Teenagers do not trust database to keep details confidential, Daily Telegraph, 7 September 2006

Concerns about confidentiality of information could discourage children’s use of essential services, Press release, Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 6 September 2006