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Independents' Day

National electronic record 'a bureaucratic nightmare'

GPs and medicolegal experts are warning the Government's £5 billion-plus plan for a national electronic record will generate unrealistic patient expectations and cause a 'bur-eaucratic nightmare'.

The NHS Care Records Service aims to provide a central record for 50 million patients which will sit alongside the notes held by their GP.

Under the scheme, information from GPs' computerised patient records will be sent automatically to the national record if patients give their consent.

Whenever a GP changes notes during a consultation new software will analyse any Read codes entered and download information deemed relevant to the central record.

It will not reproduce the entire set of notes and will not mine for information from older records.

Patients will also be able to access their record via the internet. The aim of the project is to speed up access to notes for clinicians in other areas of the NHS.

The national record will also be used as the basis for the electronic prescribing and book- ed admissions programmes.

GPC Wales chair Dr Andrew Dearden said the plans were far too advanced and the cash should be spent improving existing IT systems.

'They've now raised patient expectations, but we haven't got GP computer systems that can talk to one another, or GP-to-GP record transfer,' he said. 'Why don't we start with the things we've needed for 15 years?'

Dr Stephen Green, head of risk management at the Medical Defence Union, said problems around patient consent and confidentiality would create an 'enormous bureaucratic nightmare'.

A Department of Health spokesman said GPs would not face any extra workload because the software would automatically grab information from patients' records.

He added a 'sealed' area of the record, which could contain sensitive information such as HIV-positive status and which could only be opened by other clinicians in an emergency, was being considered.

Professor David Haslam, RCGP council chair and an adviser to the NHS IT programme, said he was worried patients would not trust who had access to the information.

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