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GPs could be legally liable for errors in care record

By Ian Quinn

GPs are being warned they could be held legally accountable for any errors in Summary Care Records, after a leaked report claimed inaccuracies have been identified that could put patients' lives at risk.

The GPC this week renewed its demand for the rollout of the programme to be halted after Connecting for Health said poor GP recordkeeping would be to blame for any errors highlighted in the official evaluation of the care record pilots.

The evaluation, led by Professor Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care at University College London, is due to report imminently.

Last week, Computer Weekly magazine reported that the researchers had uncovered inaccuracies and omissions in care records, including failures to indicate allergies and adverse drug reactions.

A report in The Times claimed the evaluation had found ‘life-threatening' errors. A Connecting for Health spokesperson refused to confirm whether the evaluation report would highlight such mistakes but added: ‘If there are errors, they are derived from GP records.'

Millions of patients across the country have been told they have 12 weeks to opt out or the process of automatically uploading their records – due to be finished by April 2011 – will begin.

The GPC has passed a motion ‘deploring' the way the rollout has been handled. GP leaders have complained that:

• practices are reporting a big rise in workload to deal with worried patients, despite assurances it would be ‘minimal'

• guidance on the quality of data expected from GPs is still to be published

• ministers have failed to respond to a BMA submission that the work involved falls outside GPs' contractual obligations.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman said patients were booking consultations specifically to talk about concerns over the record. ‘People are very worried about this,' he said.

‘From personal experience, I am now having consultations in my surgery merely to discuss opting in or out. It isn't clear from the documents they are sent what the process is.'

Dr Michelle Drage, joint chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, said she feared GPs would be held legally liable if incorrect information in Summary Care Records was used in an emergency. ‘The argument is about who is going to carry the can,' she said. ‘I think further down the line it will be GPs.'

She added: ‘Unless they produce a decent legal statement, to my mind the status quo stands, which means there's a risk to GPs. It will be seen as a GP's responsibility to make sure the records are accurate and that patients have given consent.'

Connecting for Health said it planned to publish good practice guidelines for GPs by the middle of this year, setting out minimum standards for care record data.

Dr Gillian Braunold, clinical director of the summary care record, has written to GPs saying no practice will be expected to begin uploading until local GPs have agreed and had training. She insisted any workload dealing with patient fears was likely to be ‘minimal'.

Dr Sally Old, legal adviser at the Medical Defence Union, said: ‘GPs have a legal and ethical responsibility to keep clear and accurate patient records.'

Dr Laurence Buckman: GPs are having to counsel patients about the record


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