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June 22, 2018

Details about high-profile patients are being sold in black market

National

June 22, 2018

LAHORE: While questions and doubts about the Kulsoom Nawaz's illness and the exact nature of her condition on life-saving ventilator are being raised almost daily in television talk shows, newspapers and on social media networks by her husband Nawaz Sharif's political adversaries, research shows that as far as the renowned British medical facility is concerned, it is rightly cautious in releasing any details about the health of its high-profile patient.

In October 2009, hundreds of files containing intimate details of patients’ conditions, home addresses and dates of birth were illegally sold to undercover investigators in Indian black market for as little as £4 each.

The October 18, 2009 edition of a known British media house "Mail Online" had reported:"The confidential medical records of patients treated at one of Britain’s top private hospitals have been illegally sold to undercover investigators. Hundreds of files containing intimate details of patients’ conditions, home addresses and dates of birth are being offered for as little as £4 each. The files were sold by two men who claimed to have gained access to the information from IT companies in India, where thousands of British medical records are sent every year to be computerized. They supplied more than 100 records belonging to UK patients but claimed they would be able to pass on hundreds of thousands more on demand."

The media outlet had added: "The revelation raises serious questions about the security of health records sent abroad. One patient affected by the security breach described it as ‘one step up from grave-robbing.’ The Information Commissioner’s Office is now looking into the allegations."

It had quoted Sally Anne Poole, head of investigations at the Information Commissioner’s Office as saying:"We are very concerned that private patients’ medical records are on sale in India. The ICO will establish the full facts and will then decide what action, if any, needs to be taken. Medical records are sensitive personal information and must be held securely." An investigation into the security breach was also screened on October 18, 2008 on "ITV1," a commercial television channel in the United Kingdom. The channel was previously a network of separate regional television channels, ITV currently operates in England, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Chris Rogers, the "ITV" programme’s presenter, made contact with the two salesmen in an internet chat room by posing as a marketing executive keen to buy medical records, which he said he would use to sell health products.

The documentary said there was a market for the records because unscrupulous companies want to sell insurance and prescription drugs to vulnerable patients.

The "Mail Online" had written: "One of the men filmed by undercover ITV investigators, Jayesh Bagchandanai, known as Jay, then sent more than 100 files and said they came from staff at an Indian ‘transcription’ centre where medical records are computerized. Researchers for the programme then met another man, Kunal Gargatti, who called himself ‘John’, in Mumbai. Of 116 files bought by ITV, 100 were confirmed to be authentic and were for patients who had been treated in private hospitals, although their records did contain UK's National Health Service (NHS) data including referral letters from General Practitioners."

The media outlet had maintained: "However, the "ITV" investigation found that at least one such company had sub-contracted this work outside the EU to save money and the confidential data had been leaked. Under the Data Protection Act, it is illegal to transfer such information outside the EU unless appropriate guarantees are provided that the data will be secure. The London Clinic said it dealt with its own files internally and did not send them to private companies. But it admitted advising a group of consultants to use a specialist Buckingham-based IT company, DGL Information Technologies UK, with which the clinic has a contract, to help turn paper records into computerized files. It is believed that these were the files eventually sold to the ITV investigators."

The "Mail Online" had quoted a spokeswoman for the London Harley Street Clinic as saying:"The outsourcing of patient data to India was without the knowledge or consent of the clinic or its consultants. All business was ceased with the third party as soon as we were alerted to this issue. We will do all we can to assist the investigations.’

However, as research reveals, it was in November 2009 that the head of an Indian outsourcing company was arrested for selling confidential medical records of patients treated at one of Britain's top private hospitals.

The November 12, 2009 edition of the "Mail Online" had carried a report saying police had arrested a man after an undercover investigation revealed the records were being sold for as little as £4 each.

The police said the arrested culprit (the director of Pro BPS, an outsourcing company in Pune) and his accomplices, who claimed they had gained access to the information from IT companies in India, where thousands of British medical records are sent every year to be computerized."

Police seized the laptop of the arrested man and after checking his emails they found that he had sent out the medical data to several companies.

The "Mail Online" had written: "The arrest raises serious questions about the security of health records sent abroad by UK's National Health Service and private hospitals. The police investigation was ordered following an ITV documentary broadcast in October 2009."