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GPs in care record pilot split in row on patient consent

A row has broken out between GPs in the pilot area for the rollout of Connecting for Health's controversial electronic care record with doctors in the area split over whether the scheme will benefit patients.

A group of GPs has accused the PCT in Bolton of pressurising them and their patients into taking part, after it wrote to every patient in the city telling them their records would be automatically uploaded unless they opted out within a seven-week deadline.

The letter was sent out despite many patients being registered at practices refusing to take part in the scheme.

It tells patients the Summary Care Record is 'supported by GPs across Bolton as they believe it will mean better and safer care wherever you are treated', adding that 'Bolton GPs have considered this carefully and believe that it's in the best interests of patients'.

The letter continues: 'If your practice does not hear from you by 12 September 2007 your consent will be assumed and the process of creating a summary record for you will begin.'

However, GPs in Bolton are divided over the early adopter scheme, the first stage in the programme which will see Summary Care Records rolled out across England next year.

Much of the feedback from the 11 practices so far signed up to the scheme has been positive. Dr Liaqat Natha, a GP at the Kearsley Medical Centre, said 'there had been a hugely favourable' response from patients. 'They're saying why aren't we doing this already?'

But this week senior partners at four practices, including the chair and medical secretary of the LMC, spoke out against the Summary Care Record, citing fears over the implied consent model, costs and issues of patient confidentiality.

Bolton LMC is also split on the issue and despite making no official statement, Pulse understands that at its latest meeting last month, a majority of GPs agreed the scheme was not necessarily in the best interests of patients.

Dr Chris Woods, a GP at the Halliwell Surgery and one of the senior partners speaking out, said: 'We feel patients and GPs are being pressured into this without a proper debate.'

'There may well be advantages to the care records, but it would be useful to see it in operation in just a handful of practices in Bolton who believe in it.'

The PCT's letter, however, says it plans to have electronic records in every surgery in Bolton by next May.

Dr Gillian Braunold, GP clinical lead for Connecting for Health, said: 'There is no coercion – practices choose whether to join in. With a critical mass of patients involved, your public information programme needs to be for the whole area.'

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