Community pharmacists will be able to access and add to patient records currently maintained by GPs by the end of this year.
This was announced as part of NHS England and the Government’s long-awaited GP recovery plan, which was finally published last week.
But while GPs acknowledged that a level of access will be required, they highlighted the importance of maintaining patient confidentiality.
Under the plans, GP access will be improved by enabling patients to get prescription medicine directly from pharmacists for seven common conditions, under the Pharmacy First scheme, which would launch by the end of this calendar year.
The plan said this would need to be underpinned by increased cooperation between general practice and pharmacists, including GPs sharing their patient record with pharmacists.
In order to facilitate this, the NHS will ‘invest to significantly improve the digital infrastructure between general practice and community pharmacy’ and NHS England ‘will work with community pharmacy suppliers and general practice IT suppliers to develop and deliver interoperable digital solutions’, the plan said.
This will ‘streamline referrals’ and ‘provide additional access to relevant clinical information from the GP record’, while pharmacists will be able to ‘share structured updates quickly and efficiently following a pharmacy consultation back into the GP patient record’, it added.
‘These IT improvements will improve existing and future services; for example, by allowing GP patient records to be updated following supply of oral contraception or a blood pressure consultation in community pharmacy.’
But GPs told Pulse that while pharmacists will need to see patients’ records when they are given further prescribing powers, this will need to be rolled out taking into account patient confidentiality.
RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne told Pulse: ‘If pharmacists are to be given more prescribing ability, it’s important they have access to relevant information in a patient’s medical record, in order to roll this out safely – likewise, it’s important the GP knows what a patient has been prescribed outside of the GP practice.
‘However, patient safety and confidentiality must continue to be a priority and this needs to be considered when it comes to the sharing of medical records between general practice and pharmacy.
‘Any innovations need to ensure that appropriate, robust safety and safeguarding measures are in place to maintain the high standards general practice places on patient privacy.’
Dr Neil Bhatia, a GP and records access lead at his practice in Hampshire, said of pharmacists gaining records access: ‘It certainly would be clinically important that they have access to relevant information, so that they don’t start someone on medication that is contraindicated.
‘They do have some basic access currently through the summary care record and one would anticipate that they would benefit from it, as long as the patient understands and knows that the pharmacist will be able to do that.’
However, he argued that ‘in line with current data protection principles they should only be allowed access to the basic information – allergies, medication and relevant or important diagnosis’.
‘It’s important for patients to know that their pharmacists will be able to access their records,’ he also stressed.
The seven conditions for which patients will be asked to visit pharmacies for prescriptions, subject to consultation, are: sinusitis; sore throat; earache; infected insect bite; impetigo; shingles; and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women.
The recovery plan said the existing oral contraception service would also be expanded, alongside blood pressure checks.
Currently NHS Digital is working to make sure all community pharmacies can view Summary Care Records, which include information about allergies to prevent prescribing errors, current medications prescribed for emergency supply purposes and eligibility for services such as a free flu jab.
NHS Digital said that having instant access to patient information ‘speeds up care, reduces the need for phone calls to GP practices, and reduces referrals to other services,’ particularly out-of-hours.
And last year, MPs were told as part of a parliamentary inquiry that pharmacy teams should have access to up-to-date records information from shared care records, GP Connect and summary care records with additional information.
Last month, a Government review recommended for patients to be able to access their data through the Shared Care Record and add information about their own health and wellbeing.