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GPs may face GMC if PCOs breach confidentiality

GPs would still have to safeguard

the confidentiality of their patient records when PCOs take over their IT systems under the new contract, medical defence bodies have warned.

If the contract goes ahead GPs will receive 100 per cent reimbursement of their costs, but will have to give up ownership of their data and IT systems to PCOs.

The GPC has said responsibility for confidentiality would transfer with ownership of the IT to the PCO. But defence bodies warned GPs could find themselves in front of the GMC in the event of a confidentiality breach ­ even if a PCO staff member was to blame.

GMC guidance on confidentiality states GPs 'must be satisfied there are appropriate arrangements for the security of personal information' when it is stored by computer or sent by

e-mail.

Dr Nicholas Norwell, medicolegal adviser for the Medical Defence Union, said: 'When you're responsible for personal information you must make sure it's protected against improper disclosure at all times. The information might be owned by the Government but the GP is responsible for its safety and confidentiality.'

Dr Lawrence Buckman, GPC negotiator, said PCOs would have to draw up contracts to protect GPs if they hold their notes on a central server. He said: 'The data ownership rests with the GP. Whoever owns the server has to make undertakings they won't read the contents.'

Dr Ian Barclay of the Medical Protection Society said the legislation for the contract would have to address the issue.

He said: 'If there's no primary legislation on how PCOs can use the data then would GPs be responsible for letting patients know their information is being shared with a third party and not necessarily for clinical purposes?

'I think the new system is fraught with problems. I wouldn't like to be the first person before the GMC.'

Dr Bill Mathewson, deputy chief executive of the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland, said he did not envisage GPs being brought before the GMC if the new set-up had been approved by the GPC and Department of Health. He said: 'If the system is set up like that and the GPC is happy enough with that then it's going to be difficult for the GMC to bring a case, in the event of a disclosure.'

Dr Paul Cundy, chair of the GPC's IT sub-committee, said provided systems were well designed GPs should not find themselves in the firing line.

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