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GPs are warning that serious ethical and confidentiality issues have been raised after individual practices' prescribing data was released to a pharmaceutical marketing firm.
Information on prescribing of antipsychotics was released under the Freedom of In-
formation Act in Scotland after a request by the company, IMS.
The Prescription Pricing Authority turned down the request in England, but in Scotland, where the Act has more emphasis on divulgence, data from any practice with more than one GP was given.
A spokesman for NHS Scotland's Information Statistics Division said releasing information on singlehanders would breach confidentiality.
But GPs said the data would be specific enough in many practices to put patient confidentiality at risk.
Dr Mairi Scott, chair of RCGP Scotland, said a consistent approach should have been taken across the UK because of the ethical issues at stake.
She said: 'It's a concern, not only in terms of the abuse of resources, but also in terms of confidentiality. For a small practice in an isolated area confidentiality is at risk.'
Dr David Love, co-chair of GPC Scotland, said fulfilling such requests took resources away from patient care.
He said: 'NHS staff are producing information to further the interests of private companies it doesn't seem an appropriate use of their time.'
IMS said it had asked for the data as a 'test case' to make a point to public bodies that some data could be used 'irresponsibly'.
Peter Stephens, vice-president of European public health affairs for IMS, said the data could be misinterpreted and used to undermine confidence in GPs.
By Rob Finch