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Tories unveil plans to 'dismantle' NHS IT infrastructure

By Nigel Praities, Steve Nowottny

The Conservative Party has unveiled plans for a radical reshaping of NHS IT projects, warning it will ‘dismantle' much of the current NHS IT infrastructure if elected.

Under the proposals, moves towards a national database of patient data would be scrapped in favour of a ‘localised vision' of NHS IT, while firms such as Google or Microsoft could host some records online, allowing patients to add details of additional medications being taken or other symptoms and conditions.

The Tories' plans were released today alongside a long-awaited independent review of NHS IT, chaired by Dr Glyn Hayes, a GP and former chairman of the British Computer Society.

A six page response to the review sets out for the first time some details of how a Conservative Government would overhaul the National Programme for IT.

The pledges include:

  • Dismantling the central IT infrastructure, and replacing it with interoperable local systems instead. This would include scrapping plans for a centralised patient records database, with the review stating: ‘Strategy should move towards localised electronic medical records databases at hospital and general practice level with the ability to transfer data between them when necessary.'
  • Moving towards Personal Health Records based on existing IT systems that are ‘ready for implementation' – examples of systems currently allowing this include Dossia, Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health
  • Allowing patients to edit their own health records – ‘and to choose whether or not to share this information with third parties'
  • Ensuring patient-identifiable records are only used for research purposes with explicit patient consent. The review says that pseudonymised and anonymous data must be used ‘wherever possible', but if a request for identifiable data is approved by the ethics committee then ‘permission from the patient must then be obtained before the information is used'
  • Encouraging the use of private sector and open source software across NHS IT
  • Halting and renegotiating Local Service Provider contracts ‘to prevent further inefficiencies', subject to ‘any applicable constraints'

The Conservative Party also launched a separate consultation today on the personal ownership of health records, asking how much control patients should be given over their own records and what limits if any should be placed on patient control.

The BMA welcomed the move towards more localised systems, but warned it left ‘many questions unanswered'.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics, said: ‘The BMA strongly supports the principle of patients controlling their own medical records. However, we have concerns about the security of web-based systems, and the implications of data being held by the private sector.

'There would need to be very strong safeguards and an accurate audit trail making it clear what changes or deletions had been made to records and by whom.'

‘We are concerned by the suggestion that healthcare staff could be restricted from accessing important clinical information,' she added.

‘Clinicians need access to records in order to do their jobs. If the information they have is incomplete - for example because pathologists have been prevented from entering test results - there could be implications for patient safety, as well as a negative impact on valuable health research.'

The Conservatives have unveiled far-reaching proposals for the future of NHS IT The Conservatives have unveiled far-reaching proposals for the future of NHS IT Conservative plans for future of NHS IT Conservative plans for future of NHS IT

Conservative plans for future of NHS IT

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