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Summary Care Record shelved on a good day to bury bad news

By Ian Quinn

The general election build-up, especially the day after the first-ever leadership TV debate, is a good time to bury bad news for Government departments.

Anything carrying the slightest whiff of controversy is immediately filed away until after the big day, safe in the knowledge that it will a) never happen anyway because the Government won't be in power any more or b) controversial proposals can be re-ignited with a new zest after the election, safe in the knowledge that voters can't do anything about it.

The Department of Heath, PCTs, SHAs and the rest, all cling to the so-called purdah rules so obsessively that for journalists it's hard to write about important policy issues, despite the huge issues that are at stake, particularly in the NHS, in the run-up to the May poll.

One such issue is the rollout of the Summary Care Record, which Pulse reported last month had hit the rocks, after huge controversy over the decision by Connecting for Heath to try to accelerate the process.

Millions of patients were given 12 weeks to opt out or see the process of records being uploaded at practices across the country begin, despite huge concerns among GPs that both patients and GPs themselves were supplied with inadequate information and that practices lacked the resources to do the job.

It's ironic that with fears over patient confidentiality at the heart of the issue, the Government has been able to hide under election rules and escape having to give a full explanation for its decision today to formally suspend the accelerated rollout until there is greater public and professional awareness - what GPs have been calling for all along.

Also suspended until after the election, again because of purdah, is the independent investigation by Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and her team at UCL, which according to leaked reports has found fundamental safety fears over patient records.

What Government IT chiefs cannot hide from is that their plan, to launch a major new phase in the rollout and try to achieve critical mass quickly to avoid being scrapped by the next Government post-election, has spectacularly backfired.

The lesson must surely be that all major NHS projects should be rolled out at a pace based on solid evidence of benefit to patients and through consultation with medical professionals on the frontline who will be made responsible for it working. Rather than one dictated by political deadlines and departments trying to justify their own existence.

Pulse news editor By Ian Quinn Pulse news editor By Ian Quinn