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Government rules out exempting GPs from GDPR subject access requests

GP will not be given the right to charge for patient information requests as it would ‘weaken the rights of patients’, culture, media and sport minister Margot James has said.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in May, GP practices can no longer charge a nominal fee for digging out patient information. GPs say that since the data has had to be provided for free, they have seen a large rise in time-consuming requests which is adding to costs and GP workloads

Alex Norris, the Labour MP for Nottingham North tabled a question asking what assessment had been made ‘of the potential merits of exempting general practices from the GDPR’.

Ms James replied: ‘The fundamental purpose of the General Data Protection Regulation is to provide individuals with greater protection and control over their personal data. Allowing general practices to charge for providing responses to subject access requests would weaken the right of patients.

'General practices can still charge for repeat or excessive requests made by data subjects and for requests made by third parties such as insurers under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988.’

Ms James added that guidance on the Right to Access has been updated by the Information Commissioner's Office.

Earlier this year, GP leaders urged practices to lobby their MPs to stop the use of data protection laws by solicitors and insurance companies that are 'bombarding' practice with requests for information.

Clive Elliott, business partner at Court Street Medical Practice, said Ms James's response ignored the fact that the volume of requests was coming from third parties such as lawyers rather than patients.

Mr Elliott, who has written about the toll on GP practices of dealing with GDPR, said: ‘Clearly this is from a minister who has no understanding whatsoever of how general practice operates. This has absolutely no bearing on patients’ right to information.

'This is about private profit-making solicitors’ firms who continue to receive a court fee but no longer make a contribution towards the costs of medical records. It means the NHS is now subsidising these private firms because we have to do the work for free.’

Mr Elliott added that it was 'vital' for the Government to look at the issue again.

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA's GP Committee, challenged the minister's suggestion that general practices can still charge for repeat or excessive requests made by data subjects and for requests made by third parties such as insurers.

He said there has been ‘no definition of what is excessive’ and legal advice suggests this would be exceptional.

He added: ‘This reply therefore is of no help to practices struggling with increasing numbers of SARs requests which leads to major unfunded workload.' 

Readers' comments (11)

  • I would encourage all GP's to look at their consultation frameworks. Its simple this work must be included within your session so you will need to cut something else namely patient appointments. There is no need to do extra work.

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  • Good start to 2019

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  • Time to strike?

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  • Give the patient a copy of their notes. Any further requests they're responsible for photocopies of those notes provided and surgery will only provide more up to date / recent notes.

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  • Note that solicitors requests for the notes are usually in breach of GDPR as the patient hasn't usually consented to all the information being sent. It's ironic that they choose to pretend that they're SARs when they're not. Once the solicitor is requesting a subset of information a charge is applicable as before. A quick phone call by admin staff to patient usually results in a pro-forma letter to the solicitors pointing out their GDPR breach and payment is forthcoming. We haven't found much increase in direct patient requests for notes.

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  • Thank you GP Partner Manchester. Most useful. Once again anything that will help the GPs is disregarded by the government. Well, we cannot create time and we will just have to see less patients doing this GDPR work since it is more workload on us.

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  • GP Partner Manchester

    Are you sure about that? Ive not come across anything that states you can charge when a SAR is regarding a subset vs the whole of the records?

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  • We have a duty to provide access. Nowhere does it say that you have to print it and post it at your expense. Invite the solicitors to come and access the records. You are giving them access and there is no breach here. Ah yes, you also have 40 days to send records. If push comes to shove, despatch at 38 days by second class recorded.

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  • the ICO said that you should NOT give the SAR information to the lawyers, but you should provide it only to the patient themselves. Then the patient can decide what they want passed on to the lawyers.

    A subset of the record between certain dates can be a SAR, but a subset of information relating to a certain incident, or medical condition is a medical report.

    But it still takes a long time to redact. We routinely say to all SAR requests that they will take longer than 28 days to process due to the clinician time needed to check the notes for third party references.

    Govt want us all to provide full online access to notes for patients - but I don't see how this is possible, given the third party info I end up redacting, often from hospital letters which are scanned in...

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  • government is just stupid.

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