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All GP patient data to be scrutinised by new IT system

By Gareth Iacobucci

GPs are to have all of their patient data scrutinised by a new national computer system.

The NHS Information Centre, which is introducing the system along with the Connecting for Health, said the new GP data extraction services (GPES) would enable the Government to target NHS resources more effectively in tackling issues such as obesity, alcohol abuse, infection control and sexual health.

It comes after Department of Health IT chiefs attacked existing records as inadequate and having been developed primarily for the purpose of GPs earning money.

However, GP leaders have warned that patient confidentiality could be put at risk by the scheme and some fear it is the start of a Government bid to undermine the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF).

The Information Centre said there were major flaws with existing GP data. It said the Quality Management and Analysis System (QMAS), developed as part of the payments system for the QOF, saw data collection restricted to the indicators negotiated under the GMS contract, and had been ‘developed primarily for payment purposes'.

Dave Roberts, project director for GPES, said the ‘overriding principle' of the scheme, set to be piloted from the start of next year, was to ‘match up resource allocation to the needs of patients better'.

‘What is collected through QOF is determined by negotiation rather than what is the best thing for patient care,

But he said that GPES would be launched as a voluntary scheme, with GPs given the opportunity to opt out.

‘What we've got to do is convince GPs and patients that this is secure, if we don't, the GPs will opt out, so it's very much on us to convince GPs on the structure, we'll be working with the GPC, the RCGP to get them on board.'

GPES will replace The Information Centre‘s only current system of publishing complete details of practice data, known as MIQUEST, which it claims requires too much manual intervention.

However, Government officials admitted the rollout was likely to attract controversy, not least because of high profile cases of lost data and the fiasco of Connecting for Heath's Summary Care Record rollout.

GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the BMA was not against the idea in principle, but said it was imperative that safeguards were put in place. ‘If it's to inform public health, and not to performance manage individual practices we welcome that but it's vital that cast iron safeguards are put in place to safeguard patient confidentiality.'

Dr Paul Thornton, a GP in Kingsbury, Warwickshire, said the proposal was simply a way for the Government to get at patient data without consent.

He said: ‘CfH proposals have gone wrong because they have ignored the primacy of patient consent. This proposal is simply a repackaging or extension of longstanding proposals for the Secondary Users Service database that will suck unconsented identifiable data from all the detailed care records of our patients.'

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