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Practice risks contract breach for refusing to pilot record transfer scheme

Exclusive A GP practice boycotting a new work-intensive pilot to cut costs of patient note transfers could face a breach of contract notice, Pulse has learned.

The pilot scheme requires practices to individually bag hard copies of patient records and match them to a printed barcode when the patient transfers to a new practice, but university practices have said that they are disadvantaged due to their high patient turnover.

The University Health Centre in Huddersfield is refusing to take part in the scheme due to the pressure on workload, but its practice manager said it has now been told it could be in breach of contract as a result.

The pilot, which applies to GP practices across West Yorkshire, aims to test the viability of matching every patient record with a barcode so that they can be tracked electronically.

Janet Hallam, practice manager, said they have continued to pull out notes of patients who have moved practice, but ‘to date have not packed any up in the new envelopes’.

The practice wants assurance from new national supplier Primary Care Support England (PCSE) that it will adjust its processes to take account of the extra burden for practices, in particular those with high volumes of turnover like student practices.

But instead they were warned that they will have to meet the costs of transferring any records they have held back from the pilot, and could be in breach of contract, Ms Hallam said.

She told Pulse: ’Previously we would just have handed the sealed box of records to the courier, but now we are expected to match each set of notes up with the label and put it into a special delivery envelope and then add the label the envelope – sealing the envelope.

‘We now have a pile of notes which we have pulled as deductions from the printouts which come down the link daily but to date have not packed any up in the new envelopes.’

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The practice had enquired about how the new system would account for the burden on high volume users but a solution had not been offered.

Ms Hallam said: ’We suggested that we might have to boycott the system until they put such plans into place – the response we received was “it will then be up to you to fund the transmission of those records to their new practice”. We have subsequently heard that NHSE are suggesting that we may be in breach of contract if we boycott the system.

‘Clearly costs are being cut by PCSE and the workload is expected to be carried out by unpaid practice staff. When general practice is already stretched this is totally unreasonable.’

An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse PCSE they had not yet issued any breach notices, but that the contract stated that ’all practices have a contractual obligation to return complete medical records to the commissioner’.  

A spokesperson said: ’NHS England has commissioned Primary Care Support England to deliver primary care support services in England, which includes the safe and secure transfer of patient medical records.

’NHS England is aware, through PCS England, that concerns have been raised by some pilot practices with a high turnover of patients and they continue to work closely with these practices to identify and minimise any impact on workloads’

Elsewhere in the country, practices still have to bag each patient record, but will not need to match them to a barcode. But, as revealed by Pulse in February, practices threatened to boycott plans to send blank records as part of a test run.

New patient record transfer system

NHS England awarded the contract for delivering primary care support to Capita in a bid to cut £40m a year from its £100m annual budget.

The loss of local primary support offices, which have been centralised to Capita’s Preston centre, has seen practices left with piles of uncollected records and frustrated at a lack of information from the overwhelmed helpline.

Pulse reported earlier this month that GP leaders were concerned for patients’ safety after practices waited five weeks for records to be picked up from practices.