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GPC: Online records access plans ‘risk abuse’

GP leaders have strongly criticised the Department of Health’s plans to radically expand online access to patient records, saying they risk confidential information ending up in the hands of ‘abusive people’.

The GPC strongly criticised plans to make patient records available online by 2015 and plans for a wider rollout of e-consultations, which it said would put patients at risk and fundamentally change how GPs work.

The NHS mandate, published this week, revealed ambitious plans for all patients to book appointments and order prescriptions online. It also said that patients should be able to securely email their GP by 2015. It also says that e-consultations should become ‘much more widely’ available.

But the GPC warned rolling out e-consultations would risk patient confidentiality as neither party could know for sure who was on the other end of the email conversation. It also criticised plans for online access to patient records.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman said: ‘It gives the patient access to their records but also anyone who the patient gives a copy to.

‘This could be police or lawyers and so on, but we could also see it ending up in the hands of abusive people or third parties.

‘I can see teenage parents trying to find out who has had sex with whom, who is doing drugs. I don’t think that’s a good use of medical records.

‘There are certain things you wouldn’t want others to see, for example information on termination of pregnancy, syphilis and drug use.’

He also said the extra workload would be unbearable for busy GPs, as patients went online to find test results they did not understand and would immediately want to speak to their doctor.

He said: ‘When do I do this? Is it a night time activity, an evening activity? This is a workload that I do not currently have.’

He added: ‘We know from [previous trialling] that nobody was interested in it at all. Although some people may be interested at first, in the long term it would be the third parties who had the biggest interest. This is a crucial issue for us to explain to the public.’

Also commenting on the mandate, GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the GPC was disappointed that the long-floated plans have now ‘been made a political imperative’, despite the Government being made aware of GPC concerns and despite the fact the Government’s own research project – which is being carried out by the RCGP – is still outstanding.

He concluded: ‘Patients already have access to their records, so none of this is necessary.’

A DH spokesperson said: ‘Enabling greater access to health records is one way we can support people to become partners in decisions about their treatment and better manage their health and care. However, this needs to be balanced with protecting confidentiality and security of information.  

‘We asked the RCGP to establish a Stakeholder Group representing Royal Colleges, patient groups, the BMA, the Department of Health and the NHS Commissioning Board, in order to develop plans to give patients greater electronic access to their GP records.

‘This group is now working to identify the requirements and support arrangements needed for the successful implementation of this commitment. We would expect the NHS Commissioning Board to develop a robust and secure process for delivering this objective for other areas of care.’

Story updated 15:28