By Ian Quinn
The BMA has called on the Government to halt the controversial Summary Care Record programme, as outrage over the rollout’s acceleration and a huge workload for practices spills over into open rebellion.
In a strongly-worded letter to health minister Mike O’Brien, BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum and GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman demand that the rollout be immediately suspended, claiming confused patients are unwittingly having electronic records created because of the ‘breakneck speed’ of the programme expansion being demanded by NHS IT chiefs.
GP leaders, who had appeared to have been largely won round to the potential benefits of shared care records, now seem set on a collision course with Connecting for Health, which has set out to get as many patients’ records uploaded as fast as it can amid fears the project will be canned unless it achieves critical mass.
The BMA’s letter warns that following a GPC meeting last month a ‘significant number’ of GPC members are ‘calling for a boycott’.
Pulse revealed in December that the body had decided to massively speed up the pace of the rollout, despite scant evidence for its effectiveness in official evaluations. We later revealed how SHAs, including NHS London, NHS North West, NHS North East and NHS East of England, had been given millions by Connecting for Health to carry out the mailout to patients – giving them 12 weeks to opt out or have records automatically created – by the end of this month.
In the past few weeks millions of patients have started receiving letters, but many lack the information that had been promised. Pulse has revealed how some patients were told to ring an 0845 hotline if they wanted more details.
The BMA letter claims the rollout has been accelerated before sufficient independent evaluation of pilots has taken place and calls for:
• The rollout to be halted in areas which have not yet launched public information programmes
• Information packs to patients to include opt out forms, rather than patients having to send off for them
• A video claiming BMA endorsement of the scheme to be removed from the Connecting for Health website
‘We are receiving reports from GPs that they feel unprepared and unsupported for the SCR and in some areas the rollout is taking place without the support and involvement of the Local Medical Committee,’ says the letter.
‘This is a direct consequence of the shortened timescale… this has resulted in implementation being rushed to meet this deadline. We are concerned that this is also impacting upon the level of patient awareness resulting in records being created without even implied or presumed patient consent. It does not allow GPs and practices the requisite time and resources to support patients in making informed choices about the upload of their medical information.
‘We believe that SCRs will generate extra work, which is not part of the GMS contract,’ it adds. ‘We feel that supporting patients to ensure their consent for the SCR is informed and adding information to the SCR following a GP consultation will impact adversely upon GP practices.
‘In view of these concerns a significant number of members of the GPC are seriously concerned and are calling for a boycott of the SCR and for the BMA to advise its members against uploading information onto the spine.
‘The BMA and GPC have tried to be helpful in its engagement with NHS Connecting for Health to ensure appropriate implementation of SCRs, which would be based upon evaluation, evidence and informed consent by patients and the public. We are deeply disappointed that the current national roll out has bypassed the BMA’s views, and ignored our goodwill which we have provided up until now.’
Pulse reported last week how GPs across London were urging patients to opt out of the Summary Care Record, amid fears thousands were being railroaded into it ahead of the general election.
The BMA has demanded the suspension of the Summary Care Record rollout