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Electronic records hold fears for GPs

The British Computer Society's spring primary care conference told of a 'data rape' threat – by Ian Cameron

Government plans for a national electronic patient record will seriously jeopardise patient confidentiality and could cause profound ethical dilemmas for doctors, GPs are warning.

GPs also raised fears over the security of the care records service, the core of the £6 billion national programme for NHS IT, and the content of the information held on the system.

They told a conference of primary care IT specialists last week that only 'a bare minimum' of patient data should be transferred from GPs' records to the national record, known as the data 'spine'.

Putting patients' entire re-cord on the spine could cause major problems over consent and who has access to sensitive information such as sexual or mental health history.

Dr Manpreet Pujara, chair of the EMIS national users group and a GP in Carshalton, Surrey, said patients needed to know how much of their record was on the spine and who could look at it.

'Informed consent is something we talk about all the time,' he added. 'It is a data spine, not a warehouse, but it seems to be going down the warehouse route, not the bare minimum.'

GPC IT sub-committee chair Dr Paul Cundy said GPs would worry over the accuracy of data added to patients' records by other clinicians. He said: 'When entries are made by partners I trust that. But what if I see an entry put on at 3am in A&E by a junior doctor? How do you deal with the concept of trust?'

GPs also raised the potential for data corruption, viruses and hackers making malicious changes to the record.

Dr John Lockley, a GP in Bedford, said such changes 'could be devastating' to patients.

Dr Fleur Fisher, former head of ethics at the BMA, said she was 'deeply worried' about the confidentiality of the system and warned patients were at the risk of 'data rape'.

Dr John Williams, chair of the joint GPC/RCGP IT subcommittee, said public confidence in the system was lacking: 'I've heard 20 per cent of patients want to opt out.'

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