Millions of GP scrips details may be published

GPs fear pressure from drug companies and patients if DoH changes prescription confidentiality rules.

Details of the millions of prescriptions GPs make each year could be published, if plans being discussed by the government go ahead.

The DoH, the NHS Information Centre and the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), a special NHS health authority, are considering changing rules for releasing prescription data for England.

Sources say this is being done with a view to ultimately publishing detailed statistics on GP prescribing.

But critics have warned that the release of prescribing data could lead to individual GPs being targeted by patients and drug companies.

Information on the level and cost of overall prescribing in England is currently available from the Information Centre. But no information on individual practices' prescribing is available.

Dave Roberts, programme head of non-acute care at the Information Centre, said the NHSBSA had pushed for the discussion after a growing number of requests for prescribing data under the Freedom of Information Act.

'As we have not yet completed the initial discussions with the DoH and the NHSBSA, it is not possible to give details of the wider consultation that would take place if proposals are progressed,' he said.

But Dr Bill Beeby, chairman of the GPC prescribing subcommittee, said: 'The people that work within the NHS who need to know this type of information already do.

'I am not sure what benefit prescribing data will have for the general public.

'It could lead to confidentiality problems as the prescribing habits of individual GPs could be identified.'

The data could be abused by patients to find and switch to the GPs that prescribe the most drugs, or drugs for certain conditions, said Dr Beeby, adding that drug companies could also use the data to target GPs prescribing low levels of their products.

'The patients themselves will be at risk because the data could be used to identify individuals with rare diseases,' he said.

However, Mr Roberts said that patient confidentiality was 'a key priority' that would be safeguarded at all costs.

'We would not release any practice-level prescribing data that included patient identifiable information,' he said.

'However, we do recognise that when used in conjunction with other publicly available databases, there could, in theory, be confidentiality issues that emerge.

jonn.elledge@haymarket.com.

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