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GPs are put at legal risk as solicitors fish for records

GPs are being put at risk of

legal action for breaches of

patient confidentiality because they are so overwhelmed by a deluge of solicitors' demands for medical records.

Government research has found GPs often do not have time to screen records before sending them to legal firms because they are struggling with the volume of requests.

The study uncovered two incidents where mentally-ill patients had attacked their carers after GPs had not screened notes and the patients had read the carers' comments.

The GPC said GPs would be in an 'indefensible position with the GMC' in such cases.

Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator and chair of the BMA professional fees committee, said solicitors and other commercial agents should be barred from accessing patient records under the Act.

'It is being systematically abused ­ it was never designed as a means for solicitors to mount feasibility studies into the merits of a case on a no-win, no-fee basis,' he said.

He added: 'There are only two answers: don't allow solicitors or other agents to use the data for commercial gain, or allow an increase in the fees.'

Dr Matthew Lee, medico-legal adviser at the Medical Defence Union, said failure to screen records left GPs at risk of action under common law for a breach of confidence.

He added: 'There's also the possibility of a GMC complaint about disclosing confidential information or to the Information Commissioner for a possible breach of the Data Protection Act.'

The qualitative research by the Department of Health Records and Data Protection Review Group included comments from 24 GPs.

One practice had been forced to pay a GP £100 an hour to screen records before they were sent to solicitors. The maximum fee for each record GPs supply is £50.

A rise in personal injury claims was cited as a major reason for the increase in requests.

The research added that insurance companies were now demanding solicitors get the whole health record instead of a report from A&E doctors.

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