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Independents' Day

GPs reveal widespread NHS smartcard sharing

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: NHS staff are routinely sharing smartcards to access patient records because not doing so would bring systems grinding to a halt, Pulse can reveal.

A survey of more than 300 GPs has found the practice is widespread, in defiance of strict information governance rules that could make it a sackable offence.

One in six GPs told Pulse they were aware of NHS staff in their area sharing smartcards, generally to circumvent cumbersome log-on procedures or access data at multiple terminals. One in 20 respondents admitted they had shared their own smartcard.

A Connecting for Health spokesperson insisted: ‘Staff should not share smartcards and if smartcards are used improperly, disciplinary procedures should follow.'

But Dr George Paige, a GP in Coventry, said: ‘Our receptionists always share cards and PC log-ons as it takes a few minutes to close the medical software, put in another smartcard and then restart the software. Would you like to wait that long to get your appointment or order your repeat prescription?'

A GP in Nottingham, who asked not to be named, said he had been forced to borrow a manager's card when his was ‘out of date' or when he had left it at home.

And a GP from Yorkshire, also speaking on condition of anonymity, warned smartcard sharing was ‘a real issue for office and reception staff'.

‘At the reception desk end of the office, we have four PCs and four telephones,' he said.

‘Several staff multi-task, often dealing with patients at the desk before picking up a phone call or sending a message to one of the doctors.

‘It is often impractical to continually log in and out of these different machines as they move around the office. Staff would have to log in and out of machines many times an hour.'

Dr Mark McCartney, a GP in Pensilva in Cornwall, said that although smartcards were not shared at his practice - and he did not condone the habit - the system was poorly thought through.

‘The time-lag in getting a member of staff onto the system is not acceptable to everyday working and patient care would suffer if ways were not found of working around this,' he said.

A Pulse investigation in February found 4,147 NHS smartcards had gone missing, with no disciplinary action taken. But Connecting for Health told Pulse ‘strict and robust safeguards' were in place.

A Connecting for Health spokesperson added: 'The smartcard only takes seconds to authenticate the user, not much longer than the conventional name and passcode but to a higher governance standard; any delays are ususally due to the startup time of the local application being used.'

'GPs could help themselves by making sure their reception and administration staff have enough PCs not to need to share, particularly where they feel their administrative staff do need to see clinical data.'

'All organisations have guidance on how to set up access for those who need temporary access - such as the locum or those who leave their smartcard at home - so there is definitely no need and it's not acceptable to share smartcards."

Staff are sharing smartcards inspite of it being a potential sackable offence Staff are sharing smartcards inspite of it being a potential sackable offence

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