Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said care homes will be given the ability to make daily updates to GP records as part of his plans for ‘named GPs’, in what the BMA has described as a potential ‘minefield’ for patient confidentiality issues.
Mr Hunt said integrated care can only be achieved by medical record sharing between GP surgeries, hospitals and social care services and that the ‘named GP’ plans, agreed as part of the 2014/15 GP contract deal, will hold a ‘big opportunity’ for care homes.
But GP leaders criticised the health secretary, calling for the Government to concentrate on implementing the agreements made as part of the contract negotiations, and warning that this will be a ‘minefield’ for patient confidentiality.
This follows the contract agreement, which stated that GPs will only be obliged to offer patients basic information from their records by 2015, in a significant row-back on earlier Government promises of a ‘revolution’ in the way patients access their healthcare information online.
In a recent parliamentary questions session, Mr Hunt told MPs: ‘If we are to give integrated, joined-up care, in which people deal with NHS professionals who know about them, their medical history, their allergies and all the other important things, it is vital that, if they give their consent, their medical record can be accessed. That needs to be from GP surgery to hospital to social care system.’
He added: ‘Under the named-GP policy that we have announced, there is a big opportunity for care homes to access GP records and keep them updated daily, so that GPs are kept in daily contact with how some of the most vulnerable people are doing.’
However, yesterday the GPC hit back at the claims made in Parliament on 26 November, with chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul pointing out that no such plans have been negotiated with the profession.
Dr Nagpaul told Pulse: ‘Certainly that does not form part of contract negotiations. I think it is important to actually establish the current contract changes first, before we move on to other things – the most important thing is to establish current changes and let them take effect. To allow GPs to work with current changes is the greatest priority, because there is a lot of change next year, to be sure that GPs can deliver that change effectively.’
GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash added: ‘I don’t think that the answer to everything is that every man and a dog has to have access to GP records. I think that there can be other ways of making sure that nursing homes flag up patients who they feel are unwell and raise concerns to practices, which are not about access to records.
‘[Mr Hunt] may think that that is something that we can just allow to happen but as we all know, patient confidentiality, and the robustness of that record, is absolutely paramount. So I cannot see this as something that will happen widespread across the country because it is an absolute minefield.’
She added: ‘As we know, NHS England has pushed very hard for full and open access to patient records. I think that it is very important that patients are involved in their healthcare decisions and they have a right to know what is in their records – currently they can ask to see their full record – but there are certain caveats about that. There needs to be safeguards in place. GPs are wary of issues around IT security, and these issues need to be addressed. Then there is the whole issue of vulnerable children and adults, people who are abused and so on. The whole issue needs careful planning, and obviously there are huge implications on workload for practices.’
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England and the GPC have agreed to undertake joint work during 2014/15 to explore how to deliver consistent access to the detailed patient record for other care providers.
‘This work is in development and is ongoing and we are not in a position at this stage to confirm or rule out care home access and the governance arrangements for that.’
The Government has set out plans for the NHS to be ‘paperless’ by 2018, including handing patients online access to their own GP record, saving £4.4bn in the process.