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GP to block refer 100 patients

NHS fraudbusters could make unannounced visits to GPs and demand to see patient records under new Government plans.

The proposals will give the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service powers to take information including clinical data without first getting a police warrant or patient consent.

GPs who refuse to comply could be prosecuted and fined or imprisoned under the plans, which are subject to a three-month consultation.

GPs and medical defence bodies warned the proposals had serious implications for patient confidentiality and clear guidelines were needed over who could access data

GPC member and Cleveland LMC secretary Dr John Canning said GPs needed an assurance that appropriate, properly trained people would have access.

He said: 'We would want to see safeguards around who, when and why and what the criteria for access is.'

Dr Canning added he was worried the counter fraud service did not have the skills to take on the police's role in carrying out investigations.

A spokesman for the service said the information it would seek would usually be financial or about service provision, but could still include patient-identifiable data.

'It is anticipated there will be very few occasions when fraud specialists will require access to confidential information,' he said. 'We do not anticipate doctors would have to seek consent from patients because of very strict safeguards under the Data Protection Act.'

The service, which is currently investigating 52 GPs, already holds similar powers over hospitals but not over independent contractors such as GPs, dentists and pharmacists or foundation trusts.

Dr Nick Norwell, medico-legal adviser at the Medical Defence Union, said the proposals must strictly outline what data will be accessed and how it will be used. 'The law must give specific circumstances of how the powers can be used and what documents can be looked at.'

A spokeswoman for the GMC said GPs should still seek consent if possible. She added: 'We would usually expect there to be consent or anonymisation in a routine monitoring situation.'

By Ian Cameron

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