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Records copying needs sorting out

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Regarding the photocopying of patient records for legal purposes, I particularly note a previous correspondent had success in requesting legal advisers to make arrangements to copy the notes themselves.

We have recently had a marked increase in requests for full copies of Lloyd George notes and computerised records, making play of the fact that the maximum fee payable was £50.

Some of these records have been very large and have taken staff several hours to copy. As a result we have recently taken to writing offering facilities for a representative to copy the notes, with a small service charge for use of equipment. We have had some good responses but recently received a complete refusal from one agency.

As a result, we sought advice from our medical protection body to confirm that we were fulfilling our obligations under the data protection rules and allowing access to medical notes as required.

We did not feel the rules required us to physically provide the photocopies requested by the agency and, as the custodians of the medical files, should not allow them to leave the surgery except to return to the health authority.

Delays as long as two years to have files returned have occurred in the past and we have consequently since refused to allow notes to leave the premises.

The medical protection organisation confirmed notes should not leave the premises but gave slightly conflicting advice on two occasions.

One adviser believed we had an obligation to copy the notes regardless of the disruption to the practice and should respond to the request within the recommended time. Another agreed with us that allowing access seemed reasonable and would appear to fulfil our obligations under the various acts.

But the Information Commissioner's Office felt we had a definite obligation to provide copies of Lloyd George files, not withstanding the 'disproportionate time and effort' clause in the regulations as this latter would be difficult and costly to prove.

We therefore bit the bullet and decided to photocopy the notes rather than spend vast sums of legal fees and also inordinate time making a case.

Some of the files concerned are now taking three to four hours to photocopy as specified and this entails a significant clerical burden. The financial element is also notable as the fee includes postage and consumables.

The Law Society has recently suggested that cases under £10,000 should no longer require copies of medical notes and this may possibly reduce workload, but we feel the current position needs to be brought out into the open for much wider debate.

The second part of the information control regulations is due to be amended in Parliament some time within the next 12 months and this would appear to be a good time to reignite the debate to influence the Bill before it becomes law.

A final sting in the tail is that a patient recently asked if they might photocopy their own records. Their legal advisers were going to charge them £225.60 + VAT per hour for sending a representative to perform the task.

We had estimated the record would take at least four hours to copy, which means a bill in excess of £1,000.

It would be interesting to hear other readers' comments.

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