Patient uproar delays phone support service

A PCT in Merseyside has postponed the introduction of a telephone support service after an outcry at plans to transfer patient records to a private company.

Patients at practices who sign up to the 'Wirral Keep Well' scheme will be able to phone the service for support and advice. Wirral PCT says it will help people with long-term conditions to manage their health.

But the trust has been criticised for its failure to consult patients before allowing Health Dialog, the American company behind the scheme, to access their medical records.

Patients were notified by a blue postcard sent in the mail that they had just two weeks to opt out of the service.

'I should not have to write a letter to my doctor's practice to stop this,' one patient, quoted in the Wirral Globe newspaper, said. 'This is an invasion of privacy which should not be going ahead unchecked.'

A PCT spokesman said the system's introduction would be delayed for a 'few months' while the PCT addressed issues related to patient consent and data security.

He said all personal data would be secure, and that reports which said records would be stored at Health Dialog's office in Boston were 'misleading'. But he admitted that 'the public need to be reassured'.

Fifty-three of the PCT's 61 GP practices had originally signed up for Wirral Keep Well. Four have since dropped out in the wake of the negative publicity, however.

Dr James Kingsland, chairman of the National Association of Primary Care, and a Wirral GP, said the current situation highlighted the need to consult patients before setting up any new service. 'It's a shame, as the programme will probably have benefits,' he said.

'If the consultation was done properly, the PCT would be getting plaudits, not criticism, from the local papers.'

jonn.elledge@haymarket.com

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