This site is intended for health professionals only

Care record chiefs blame safety scare on ‘software issue’

By Steve Nowottny

Fears that up to 200,000 patients could have been put at risk by inaccurate data in Summary Care Records may be largely unfounded and were the result of a ‘minor software messaging issue', according to NHS IT chiefs.

NHS South Birmingham, which began an early adopter trial of the controversial care records scheme two years ago, has admitted that thousands of records were ‘incorrectly identified' last month as containing potentially life-threatening errors.

In July managers there claimed 10% of records – 8,800 out of 82,000 – had been found to include out-of-date information on patients' medications and allergies, prompting alarm among GP leaders and warnings that up to 200,000 patients across England could potentially have been put at risk.

But NHS South Birmingham said this week that 96% of the records which had been flagged as out of date are in fact current and up-to-date.

‘In the course of routine reporting, a number of Summary Care Records generated by NHS South Birmingham were incorrectly identified as being out of date,' a spokesperson said.

‘Further investigation has revealed the cause of the error was the issue of a patient's repeat medication being inappropriately flagged. A minor software messaging issue with a specific GP clinical system was identified as being the cause. This has resulted in some records being flagged in error as out of date.'

A spokesperson for NHS Connecting for Health added: ‘The scale of the issue with unsent updates is significantly smaller than has been reported. Following detailed investigations, we can confirm that the majority of these "unsent" messages were not meant to be sent to the SCR.'

‘There remains a requirement for users to utilise safety features such as smartcards. It is important that these are used as intended to prevent unauthorised users accessing and updating records.'

The fears over inaccuracies last month prompted the BMA to call for the immediate suspension of the use of Summary Care Records. A spokesman said today that the association's position remained unchanged.

Dr Paul Cundy, a GP in Wimbledon and former chair of the GPC IT subcommittee, said the errors found in Birmingham were a ‘complete red herring', pointing out that a number of sensitive read codes, such as those relating to mental health or HIV status, are placed on an exclusion list which would prevent them ever being uploaded to the Summary Care Record.

‘By definition the way the Summary Care Record is designed means that it will never be accurate, because the viewing doctor will not know which of those excluded codes have been excluded,' he said.

‘You would argue that in out-of-hours setting that is actually precisely the sort of information you need to know. You want to know if they have HIV rather than if they've recently had a runny nose or not.'

Thousands of care records were incorrectly flagged as out-of-date, IT chiefs have admitted Thousands of care records were incorrectly flagged as out-of-date, IT chiefs have admitted More on the Summary Care Record

For more news, comments and analysis on the Summary Care Record, please click here.

Complete relevant Care of elderly CPD modules on Pulse Learning by registering for free, or upgrade to a premium membership for full access at only £89 a year.

Maximise your practice's financial potential and compare your performance with peers with Pulse Intelligence. Register for a 30 day free trial.