Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Who are the Sun trying to fool?

I don’t usually blog about politics, or about things that are close to my former career in the NHS. Despite that, I am making an exception today because I feel sorry for Gordon Brown. I never thought I'd say that because in the past he has sometimes annoyed me intensely. His current spat with the Sun is where I sympathise with him.
The facts seem to be clear, the Sun carried a story about Brown's son having Cystic Fibrosis. It seems that no one in Gordon Brown's family gave out that information, so whoever did make it available had no right to that information. The Sun is now saying that Brown was wrong to say that they got the information illegally, and they have produced a tape from someone who said they got the information 'on the grapevine'. I have no idea what that particular grapevine amounts to, but if the information did not get there from the Brown family then it must have got there through some breach of confidentiality.
When I ran a cancer registry, we had specific clauses in the terms of service that said any breach of confidentiality could get you fired. Similar clauses exist all over the NHS.
It is disingenuous of the Sun to say that they didn't do anything wrong. They were in exactly the same position as someone who knowingly receives stolen property. They are a newspaper; they must know the rules on confidential health information. They must have known that the only way they could have got the information was through an act somewhere along the line that was against the rules. They accepted stolen information, and surely that must be just as bad as if they had accepted anything else that is stolen.
I guess some people might argue that stealing personal health information, or passing it on without permission, is not the same as stealing a watch or a wallet. On the other hand bank account numbers or credit card details are just information, and stealing those is certainly criminal. It can't be right for the Sun to make up it's own rules as to what information it thinks is fair game and what it would report as a crime. It suggests that at least to some extent the Sun thinks it is above the law. With a bit of luck the recently announced inquiry will mean that they will have to explain their attitudes to a judge.

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