By Ian Quinn
Exclusive: Patients have been told to call a paid 0845 hotline number if they want advice about how their electronic records will be used by the NHS, after Government IT managers reneged on promises to provide detailed information, Pulse can reveal.
GP leaders are frustrated at how the mass, fast-tracked rollout of the Summary Care Record is being handled, with NHS managers failing to provide promised information to millions of patients and thousands of GPs.
Plans to upload more than 10 million records across England in the next year have begun with patients told to go to their GP practice if they want to opt out of the database, even though those in charge of the rollout admit many GPs are in the dark about the process.
Pulse has learned that in the capital, where NHS London has begun writing to six million patients, patient information packs have not been produced as promised, with allegations it is down to a lack of funding.
Patients in Greenwich, Bexley, Southwark, Waltham Forest and Bromley have become the first to receive letters directly from NHS management under a change of tactics. Connecting for Heath is providing millions to cash-strapped NHS bodies, also including North West, North East and East of England SHAs, in a desperate attempt to speed up the rollout.
The letter gives patients 12 weeks to opt out by downloading a form from the internet or ordering it from an 0845 number and taking it to their GP.
‘Your GP may not have much detailed information about the care record at this stage,’ admits the letter, advising patients they can get full details by returning a form in a pre-paid envelope or calling the number.
Pulse called the number and no warning was given over call charges, which we learned would be at national rates as high as 20p per minute.
Dr Michelle Drage, joint chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, said: ‘We understand there is no money available to support practices. We continue to raise our concerns about the programme.’
Previously, Connecting for Health had stressed the importance of patients and GPs getting detailed information, with Dr Gillian Braunold, clinical director for the Summary Care Record, telling Pulse ‘letters alone are not enough’.
Kevin Jarrold, programme director for NHS London’s Programme for IT (LPfIT), said in December it planned to ‘co-ordinate information packs for patients’, and would ‘discuss information packs for GPs’.
An LPfIT spokesperson denied lack of funding had stopped those plans, but admitted: ‘We recognise GPs may not have much detailed information at this stage, so patients are being directed to the NHS Care Records service helpline on 0845 603 8510 and the website.’
The spokesperson added that GPs would be offered training when the Summary Care Record went live.