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Shredding scanned documents

Q. All of our scanned documents are verifiably backed up to tape which is kept offsite. They also exist on a second machine's hard disk and are updated nightly for instant access in the event of the primary machine's failure. We are desperately short of storage space and would like to shred all documents older than three months. Is this permissible?

This is a recurrent query. Pragmatism would suggest it is both necessary and safe to shred documents that are scanned into an electronic record in full compliance with the latest authoritative Good practice guidelines for general practice electronic patient records ­ version 3, September 2003.

Provided that documents have been scanned in without alteration and no subsequent changes have been made, there should be no problems if the original documentation is destroyed. Indeed, we have been advised that both Customs & Excise and the legal profession have adopted a similar policy with regard to shredding scanned documents.

But legally it is still not absolutely certain that you may safely shred scanned documents. Full compliance with the guidelines for electronic records would, it is to be hoped, prove a good defence in the event of a legal challenge.

We would still advise the retention of hard copies of documents where you have reason to believe litigation may be involved at some stage, or where you have particularly doubts about shredding the original documentation.

If in doubt you should retain the original, or seek specific guidance from your medical defence organisation before destroying the original documentation.

Dr Christine Dewbury, Wessex LMCs

Neither Pulse nor Wessex LMCs can accept any legal liability in respect of the answers given. Readers should seek independent advice before acting on the information concerned.

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