A few days ago, I dropped into my doctor's surgery to pick up a prescription and was confronted by one of those large floor-mounted pop-up displays that one finds at exhibitions, trade fairs and circuses. It informed me of an exciting new scheme by which the "quality of care and health services" would be "improved" by "sharing" information about the care I receive with those who plan health and social care services, as well as with "approved researchers and organizations outside the NHS" (National Health Service).

The mechanism by which this "sharing" was to be accomplished, namely uploading one's confidential medical records to a huge database, was nowhere mentioned in the poster. Indeed, the word "database" appears nowhere either in the poster or in the official leaflet that is being junk-mailed to every household in the land. Instead, there is a lot of soothing verbiage extolling the benefits of uploading all our medical records to a giant server farm. Doing so will, for example, enable the NHS to "find more effective ways of preventing, treating and managing illnesses," "guide decisions about how to manage NHS resources so that they can best support the treatment and care of all patients," etc.

There are also the statutory assurances for those wimps and technophobes opposed to the march of progress. "Records are linked in a secure system so your identity is protected," the leaflet burbles. "Details that could identify you will be removed before your information is made available to others, such as those planning NHS services and approved researchers." Finally, right at the end, we get to the heart of the matter. "Do I need to do anything?" asks the leaflet. Answer: "If you are happy for your information to be shared you do not need to do anything. There is no form to fill in and nothing to sign. And you can change your mind at any time." If you're unhappy, you have to tell your doctor.