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Scotland rolls out national patient data extraction scheme

The Scottish Government has begun automatically extracting patient data from GP practice records.

The Scottish Primary Care Information Resource (SPIRE), which launched this week, will pass patient information directly from GP surgeries to NHS Scotland – and authorised researchers – with the aim of helping the Scottish Government better understand the state of Scotland’s health.

All GP surgeries in Scotland will be automatically added to the SPIRE database unless the practice chooses to opt out. Patients registered at any surgery which chooses to opt out will not be included in this service and must register with another practice if they want their records to be used.

Patients who are registered at surgeries which remain opted in to SPIRE will have their records automatically added unless they choose to opt out by signing an opt-out form at their respective surgery.

All data sent by GP practices is sent to NHS Scotland in encrypted form by authorised staff at the surgeries.

Organisations wishing to conduct medical research or analysis using these records must be authorised by SPIRE’s Steering Group.

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SPIRE has many of the same objectives as the aborted system in England, which similarly looked to centralise patient data for access and research purposes with the aim of improving public health.

But unlike NHS England’s system, SPIRE does not sell patient medical data to third parties and patient information is only passed to authorised organisations for research once patient consent has been obtained in writing by the GP.

The requested medical data is anonymised by the practice, transferred to a secure NHS Scotland area for access by authorised representatives of the researching organisation for the duration of their study and then destroyed once the research is completed.

Dr Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland said: ‘SPIRE is a fantastic example of how Scottish society as a whole can benefit from analysing data from NHS systems.’

A four-week leafleting campaign is intended to make patients aware of the changes and their right to opt out of the scheme.

Scottish GPC chair Dr Alan McDevitt said: ‘We need a better understanding of the health of Scotland’s population, and know where to spend our money, time and resources to make it better. We need Scotland to be a healthier nation and SPIRE is essential for that.’