MRC code puts privacy first

October 13, 2000

The Medical Research Council has issued guidelines on the ethical handling of personal information in a bid to bolster public trust.

The move is designed to help protect patient privacy, strengthening existing MRC advice.

Scientists who use personal data about members of the public as part of clinical investigations and trials, surveys and long-term population studies will be encouraged to tighten up procedures if necessary. Those who are supported by MRC funds will be expected to adhere to the guidance.

The MRC guidelines cover ethical principles, a briefing on relevant laws, good practice on safeguarding confidential information and advice on the issues that should be considered when analysing health records.

Andy Haines, chair of the working group that developed the advice, said that medical research depended on trust and had to reflect the public's concern for privacy.

"There is scope for us to safeguard patients' interests further, especially by making patients more aware of how their information may be used, and seeking explicit consent for particular uses of information wherever practicable," he said.

The guidelines were welcomed by Jane O'Brien, of the General Medical Council. She said: "Doctors involved in research have a duty to be fully aware of the implications of the ethical and legal issues that arise in different research settings."

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