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NHS England requests data on GP appointments to support case for seven-day working

NHS England will ask GP practices for access to detailed information about their provision of patient appointments in order to analyse if the money spent on seven-day access is ‘wisely invested’.

A spokesperson said NHS bosses had decided not to proceed with plans to bypass GP practices to access this information directly from IT suppliers, as reported in the national media.

This is despite having asked EMIS for ‘patient level data’ excluding names but including birth year, gender and the first part of their postcode only last month.

In the letter sent to EMIS on 19 June, seen by Pulse, NHS England’s head of primary care development Tracey Grainger said it needed EMIS to extract this data because there was ‘an urgent need within short delivery timescales’ to analyse ‘changes to appointment provision, appointment uptake and patient encounter patterns’ by this September.

The data requirements sheet sent out by NHS England for comments from EMIS requested the date and time of the appointment; its duration; appointment type, face to face, skype, home visit; and whether the appointment was urgent or routine.

But patient privacy campaign group medConfidential’s coordinator Phil Booth noted that GPs are the ‘data controller’ for patient records rather than ‘the companies GPs choose and pay to provide software’.

He said: ‘It is GPs who have a professional and ethical duty of confidence to their patients. With this letter, NHS England has shown it will prioritise political motivations over patient trust. It quite evidently thinks it is above the law when it comes to protections around patient data.

‘Its intentions are clear, route around doctors and patients, trample on every rule of confidentiality and collect it all.’

GPC IT lead Dr Paul Cundy said NHS England should inform patients if extracting data, including how it might be used.

He added: ‘The Government should not be casting aside patient confidentiality in pursuit of ill-though-out political priorities.’

However an NHS England spokesperson told Pulse that it had decided not to take the ‘course of action [the letter] outlines’.

A spokesperson said: ‘It is crucial not to misunderstand what is being proposed. We are not talking about individual personal information in this letter. What we are referring to is overall statistics for GP surgeries on issues such as total numbers of appointments.

‘Practices have asked us if we could secure more help from the system suppliers in auditing their data so as to reduce their costs and workload. Such information is clearly needed to ensure the £125m is wisely invested through the Prime Minister’s GP Access Fund.’

EMIS Health stressed it has ‘strict information governance procedures’ which meant it had not released any data in response to NHS England’s initial request.

A spokesperson said: ‘This responsibility rests with GP practices who must give their consent to any extract as the data controllers of this information.’