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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Whose data is it anyway?

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As if I didn’t have enough to worry about already with the threat of having to be responsible 24/7 for certain vulnerable patients, and having to stay open until eight o’clock seven days a week for all patients, and having to provide continuity of care, I now run the risk of being sued by patients for sharing their confidential data because I didn’t try hard enough to inform them so they could exercise their right to opt out.

Apparently GPs have just eight weeks ‘to take reasonable steps to inform patients their data will be shared outside the practice’. Of course patients have the right to object and this must be recorded in their notes.  The problem is that guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office on what would be regarded as ‘reasonable steps’ isn’t ready yet; and putting up some posters in the waiting room, or adding something to the practice website may not be enough to avoid the wrath of the Information Commissioner when a complaint is made. In the eyes of the law, under the Data Protection Act GPs are data controllers and liable to criminal proceedings if data is shared without their patients’ permission.

What if ‘reasonable steps’ means writing to every patient?  Who is going to pay for this?

So in my next ten minute consultation with one of my male diabetics I now not only have to sort out their complex medical needs, I also have to tick various QOF boxes, ask some personal questions regarding their sex life and I now have to explain how all their information will be shared with a third party in an identifiable way unless they wish to object.  That particular consultation will run for more than ten minutes won’t it?

Come to think of it, I might need to work from eight in the morning until eight at night just to see the same number of patients I do now simply to record all the information I’m now expected to gather - and once I’ve done that it’s not even the patients’ information any more, anyway.

Dr Hadrian Moss is a GP in Kettering, Northamptonshire. You can tweet him at @DrHMoss.

Readers' comments (6)

  • Vinci Ho

    This story is called,'Jedi being forced to maintain the political health of the Empire.', mate😔

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  • Neil Bhatia

    I don't think it's our job to "discuss" it with patients.
    Make a good, detailed handout available, with links to all available information, and an opt-out form, and tell them to read it and make up their minds (tinyurl.com/cdoptout).

    I, as their GP, can't help with their decision, or advise on it really, it's not a clinical matter. All I can do is make it as easy as possible for the patient to exercise their right to veto, and make as many patients aware of this right before it's too late.

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  • It is a GP's responsibility to inform patients because he / she is the data holder and will be the one during the transfer.
    Whilst I have always supported GP's it does appear that GP's don' care any more, they want as little as possible to do with patients, they only care about money!
    GP's need to ask themselves the question, what happens to patient confidentiality which is very much their responsibility?

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  • Shurleea Harding

    Do you not have any understanding that the government is forcing us to hand over the data en mass, while exhorting us to tell each individual patient about their diktat, knowing full well that practices do not have the resources or the time to do this ?

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  • Outcome the GP haters! Press and governments have attacked GPs. WHY? Because we are well paid, well trained professionals. Sounds stupid now? Everything since 2004, which by the way haters, brought us back into the sort of income that practices and the profession needed to be attractive for the future, has been to micro-manage and stop us from 'earning' money. Please public GP haters wake up. Money into practices is the funding to provide care, buildings staff and yes GP pay. Keep making it harder to earn, make us do non clinical work and catch22 situations and funding falls, the quality and constancy of care falls as well. I'm 45 and want out of this mess before I make a mistake suffer, ill health or lose all self respect. Tell me Shurleea what you know of the working week of a GP and how you have supported us over and above the taxpayers 130 a year to your GP.

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  • £130/year for each patient ? I wish. Round here it is about £80.

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