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Common sense and common consent in communicable disease surveillance
  1. L Turnberg
  1. Correspondence to:
 Lord Turnberg, Public Health Laboratory Service, House of Lords, London, UK;


The need to protect the public against the spread of communicable (infectious) disease provides a good example of the need for a commonsense approach to the use of confidential data. Laboratories need to notify different professionals in order to trace the sources of outbreaks of infection and eradicate the cause. It is often not possible to obtain consent from individual patients, given the rapid time scale required. In doing so, however, laboratory staff and others would contravene the Data Protection Act in passing on information without consent. Section 60 of the Health and Social Care Act was designed to overcome barriers to research relying on data accumulated in the past and this type of public health work. But this is proving a sluggish procedure. It is an awkward solution to the problem of data use without specific consent. This problem will be overcome only when the public can have sufficient trust in safeguards that are in place to protect their safety and confidentiality so that these important activities can be pursued without specific informed consent.

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