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Tory IT plans could see GPs locked out of parts of record

By Steve Nowottny

GPs could see themselves locked out of parts of their patients' records under Conservative party plans to overhaul NHS IT infrastructure.

In a response to a Tory-commissioned independent review of NHS IT published last week, shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien set out for the first time the details of how the party plan to revamp the patient record database, including the beleaguered National Programme for IT.

Under a Conservative health service, patients would be able to edit their records details of their medications, symptoms and conditions online – as part of a controversial plan to host patient records on web-based systems including Google and Microsoft Health.

But they would also have the right to and to choose whether or not to share this information with others, including GPs and researchers.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics, warned: ‘We're concerned by the suggestion that healthcare staff could be restricted from accessing important clinical information.

‘Clinicians need access to records in order to do their jobs. If the information they have is incomplete there could be implications for patient safety, as well as a negative impact on valuable health research.

‘In a situation where a child was at risk of abuse, we would be very concerned about information being removed from their records by a family-member.'

There are also concerns about the security of web-based systems and ‘strong safeguards' were needed to protect patient data, added Dr Nathanson.

The Conservative party pledges also include a pledge to scrap the planned national database of patient data in favour of localised systems shared between GP practices and local hospitals.

Mr O'Brien said the shift in strategy would mean GPs could use ‘localised electronic medical records databases at hospital and general practice level with the ability to transfer data between them when necessary.'

Dr Neil Bhatia, a GP in Yateley, Hampshire said GPs would find a localised IT system useful.

‘I think the localised vision is what most doctors have wanted and asked for, the ability to "push" information when required and if properly consented from GP to secondary care, or to allow access to information when required.

But he added: ‘I think there is quite a lot of misunderstanding about the proposals, and the Conservatives really need to clarify matters if they are not going to be roundly criticised.'

What are the Conservative IT proposals?

• Replacing the central IT infrastructure with local systems able to transfer records between GP practices and local hospitals
• 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
• Encouraging the use of private sector and open source software across NHS IT
• A consultation on how much control patients should be given over their own records
• Renegotiating local service provider contracts ‘to prevent further inefficiencies'
• Moving towards personal health records based on existing IT systems including Google Health, Microsoft Health Vault and Dossia

Source: CONSERVATIVE PARTY RESPONSE TO THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF NHS IT, August 2009

NHS Database

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