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GPs given green light for mass Summary Care Record opt-out

By Ian Quinn

The Information Commissioner's Office has given GPs the green light to begin a mass opt-out of their patients from the Summary Care Record.

The UK's information authority ruled that practices will not face any action if they chose to automatically stop their patients' records being uploaded, provided they inform them of what they are doing first.

The move paves the way for GPs to switch to what is effectively an opt-in model for the care record.

The intervention comes as leading GPs spearhead a revolt against the programme, following the revelation that up to 200,000 care records may be subject to potentially dangerous inaccuracies.

Pulse reported earlier this week that GPs, led by the former chair of the GPC's IT sub committee, Dr Paul Cundy, were to opt their patients out of the rollout en masse by adding the 93C3 read code to their notes, blocking their participation unless they specifically choose to opt in.

Today a letter to one GP campaigner from the Information Commissioner's Office makes it clear that GPs will be free to take part in the mass opt-out, as long as they provide fair information.

It says: ‘As you are aware, it is possible for a GP to opt all their patients out of the Summary Care Record. However, if they do so without informing their patients then this may be considered unfair processing.'

‘If the GP informs his patients of his intention to opt them all out and gives them the opportunity to object, then this is more likely to be fair.'

‘The provision of fair processing information on its own is insufficient; patients must be told in advance of the GP's intention to opt them all out and be given the opportunity to object.'

‘However, beyond the GP having to be confident that his patients have been clearly informed of the situation, we are not going to be prescriptive about how GPs do this, or how the patient should indicate their objection.'

‘If a complaint to the ICO is made on this particular issue, then we will judge each method that a GP has used case by case.'

Dr Neil Bhatia, a GP in Yateley in Hampshire, who first raised the matter with the Information Commissioner, said the decision paved the way for GPs to opt out thousands of their patients while still allowing those who specifically want a record to be created to have one.

He said: ‘Bulk opt-out coding is needed. Under the current Connecting for Health software configuration, there is no other way to achieve BMA and GPC policy, no other way for a GP practice to operate an opt-in scheme.'

‘Of course, practices can decline to be involved with the Summary Care Record programme entirely, and many have, but to do that would be to deny the rights of those patients who express the wish to have a Summary Care Record.'

Helen Wilkinson, director of the campaign group The Big Opt Out, said: ‘We are delighted that the Information Commissioner has taken this step forward and is reassuring GPs in their endeavours to safeguard both patients' and medical confidentiality.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'What is important is that well informed people are able to choose the approach to their records that offers them the safest care and greatest peace of mind.

'The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has advised that GPs should take reasonable steps to ensure that the majority of their patients are informed about their intentions to opt them out. This is because patients may have assumed an SCR has been created, given the letter they received suggested it would be, unless they took steps to opt out. The ICO also advised that the issue of GPs opting out patients en masse may raise data protection issues.

'As previously stated, we are fully committed to reviewing the information sent to patients about the Summary Care Record and the process by which patients can record their preference as well as reviewing the content of the record.'

GPs have been given the green light for a mass Summary Care Record opt-out GPs have been given the green light for a mass Summary Care Record opt-out

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