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Up to 200,000 patients put at risk by inaccurate data in care records

By Ian Quinn

Exclusive: Up to 200,000 patients have been put at risk by a systematic failure to update medical data in the Government's national Summary Care Record programme, reveals shocking new evidence supplied to Pulse by GP leaders.

In South Birmingham, where electronic records have been uploaded since an early adopter trial began two years ago, 10% of records – 8,800 out of 82,000 – have been found to include errors in data on patients' medication or allergies.

The scale of the errors, involving out-of-date details that could lead to potentially fatal medical errors, has stunned GPs and was the reason behind the BMA calling for the immediate suspension of all uploading of care records yesterday.

If the error rate was repeated across the estimated two million patients to have received care records so far, 200,000 people may have been placed at risk.

GP leaders believe the Department of Health's IT arm, Connecting for Health, was aware of an issue with regard to data inaccuracies, but dismissed it, claiming care records came with a health warning attached.

The National Patient Safety Agency, the BMA claims, was also was made aware of the issue but decided not to step in.

Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC, told Pulse: ‘The fact that in Birmingham 80,000 patients have had their records uploaded, the majority without explicit consent, and one in 10 have been put at risk from inaccurate data, shows we believe that the uploading of Summary Care Records has to be stopped immediately because they are not safe.

‘Across the country around two million records we are told have been uploaded. If that rate of inaccuracies is repeated nationally - and we have no reason to see why not - we're talking about 200,000 patients.

‘In most cases patients might get away with it but ultimately when you're talking about having the wrong medication details or details about allergic reaction we could be talking about patient deaths and if there is one serious incident then that is one too many. This is a huge patient safety issue.'

Details of the inaccuracies came to light at a meeting of the project board overseeing the rollout in South Birmingham last week.

But Dr Morley claimed Connecting for Health, which a recent official report found had been frantically trying to achieve a critical mass for the project by uploading as many patients' details as possible, had been aware of the issue for at least two months.

Dr Morley said the LMC had received a letter from Connecting for Health, claiming it did not think such lapses in data were a major health issue.

He said: ‘We received a letter saying that while they had considered it they didn't think it was a significant risk because all care records came with a health warning attached because they shouldn't be relied upon.

‘We believe that Connecting for Health had known about this for more than two months.

‘We believe that either this is a major risk to patient safety or, if they are not to be relied upon, it shows that they have been wrong to spend all these millions developing a system in the first place.'

It is believed many of the inaccuracies were caused by staff in Birmingham not having access to NHS smartcards, needed to make changes to Summary Care Records.

GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘They didn't realise that there were large numbers of records that were just not being updated because the updating required smartcards and with locums etc the system did not upload those records.'

‘As a result, there was a huge number in the queue, which meant the data remote sites were accessing were out-of-date. They were not able to see current medication or allergies and may have made decisions based upon an out-of-date record.'

He added: ‘The other side is that this matter was referred to the NPSA by Connecting for Health. The NPSA decided that it was not a risk to patients because the information was date-stamped and there was a disclaimer. They felt there wasn't sufficient evidence to stop using the SCR. But the Committee feels that clinicians won't know what the missing data is, and won't have the full picture.'

Pulse reported earlier how a motion passed at yesterday's GPC meeting claimed patient safety was being compromised by ‘the failures of SCRs to be reliably and consistently updated'.

It says access to all records should be halted until all issues have been ‘fully investigated and satisfactorily resolved'.

Pulse exclusively revealed last month that the Government is set to massively scale back the Summary Care Record following its 'profound' misgivings about the way the rollout has been handled.

A University College London report, led by Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, last month warned patient records contained 'incomplete or inaccurate data', but until now little had been known about the huge scale of the problem.

Dr Robert Morley: one death caused by inaccurate data would be too many Dr Robert Morley: one death caused by inaccurate data would be too many Up to 200,000 patients put at risk by inaccurate data in care records Your questions on the White Paper

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