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Concern over plans to publish individual GP practice prescribing data

Ministers have unveiled plans to publish data on the prescriptions issued by each GP practice, as part of a Government drive to increase transparency and access to public information.

The move was contained in part of last week's budget.

Currently information about prescriptions dispensed by each surgery is only available to management in the PCT for their own practices and cannot be accessed by the public, but supporting documents published by The Treasury reveal the Government will 'look at publishing prescribing data at practice level subject to an evaluation and impact assessment by the NHS Information Centre.'

Two years ago the NHS Information Centre published a report into the impact of prescribing information being made publically available because requests for this information had increased, especially those from commercial companies, but concluded it was unlikely to be allowed under current legislation.

The 2008 report raised concerns about the potential identification of practices providing services for 'sensitive conditions', such as emergency hormonal contraception, HIV, drug addiction, Alzheimer's disease or schizophrenia.

'The provision of sensitive services may be known locally, but national release of information could lead to lobbying by patient support groups, the pharmaceutical industry and local or national media,' it concluded.

However, minsters now plan to reopen this review, asking members of the public and commercial companies whether they wish to access this information.

The move is opposed by RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada. Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum event last week, she said: ‘It's [data about prescriptions] meaningless unless you understand the context it's made in.'

In a statement, the NHS Information Centre confirmed the plans: 'The NHS Information Centre will be carrying out an evaluation and impact assessment about the wider release of primary care prescribing data on behalf of Government.

'This follows the Department of Health's consultation on information and is part of the wider agenda aimed at increasing transparency across the public sector while protecting patient confidentiality.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We have recently run a consultation on information and one of themes that emerged was the further opening up of information sources. As part of this, we will look again at the idea of publishing practice level prescribing data subject to an evaluation and impact assessment by the NHS Information Centre.'

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