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CQC to routinely access GP records without patient consent

Exclusive: GP records will be routinely accessed without patient consent by CQC inspectors during a pilot scheme to test the regulator's visits to practices, Pulse can reveal.

The pilots will test the regulator's model for inspecting practices, and will include non-medically qualified inspectors from the CQC routinely looking at patient records, although inspectors will let practices select which patient records they wish them to review.

The CQC said the results of the pilots in 40 practices will be published this September and were designed to ‘identify any issues' in the CQC's approach inspecting practices.

The GPC warned routinely accessing patient records should not be done without patient consent, but the CQC argued they were legally able to do so under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 on the grounds there is a ‘public interest' in accessing the confidential data.

The CQC wrote to all GP practices earlier this month to encourage them to create an account with the regulator online and begin the process of registration.

Pulse revealed in April that GP practices will be inspected every two years, with visits lasting between half a day and a full day and may include interviews with practice staff and patients.

The CQC said their approach to reviewing GP records from April 2013 will depend on the result of the pilots. A CQC spokesperson said: ‘The participants of the primary medical service inspection pilot have volunteered to test out our methods so we can identify any issues.'

‘The pilot inspections will include testing CQC's approach to reviewing patient records. However inspectors will let the service select which records to review.'

‘If a GP or member of staff knows a patient would not wish their records to be shared during an inspection our inspectors will honour that wish.  All information gathered during the pilot will remain confidential.'

But GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the CQC must gain consent from patients before accessing their records.

He said: 'There is a question mark whether it is appropriate for them to access patient files in the pilot because they are not yet accredited inspectors. They really should get patient consent at the moment.'

'I think there are a lots of other ways to make assessments to practice without routinely accessing patient files. They have had that message and we continue to give them that message.'

Dr Grant Ingrams, GP in Coventry, agreed: ‘Sometimes inspectors will need access to patient files but it should not be routine and the CQC should have to state why it needs to see the files and why they can't be anonymised.

‘There should be more strict guidelines to go with it. As it stands, CQC inspectors have carte blanche access to everything.'

Dr Stephanie Bown, director of policy and communications at the Medical Protection Society, advised GPs involved in the pilots to inform inspectors if they know a particular patient would not want their records to be accessed.

She said: ‘If a doctor has reason to believe or knows that a particular patient does not wish for their records to be accessed, the doctor should inform the inspector of this and consider whether anonymisation is appropriate, and whether it is necessary for that particular set of records to be accessed for the purposes given.'

The CQC said it will publish results for future good practice when the pilot inspections conclude around September.

Story updated 13:04