Backing for access to patients' records

The Information Commissioner's Office has given its support to patient record systems that allow open access to health professionals, despite many concerns among GPs surrounding confidentiality.

According to the personal records watchdog, systems that give access to patient records to those that are not directly involved in their care are unlikely to fall foul of the Data Protection Act.

A spokeswoman said that the commission had taken into account the need for a number of health professionals to gain access to information in many cases as well as their ethical integrity.

She added that a further safeguard against data protection infringement was having an audit trail to detect when records were inappropriately accessed.

Joint GP IT Committee chairman Dr Paul Cundy, who is concerned about confidentiality over a blood test system at his local hospital, St Helier, in Carshalton, South London said: 'It is not good enough to say that relying on professionalism means that there will not be an infringement. More secure systems need to be in place.'

Also concerned is Dr Harry Yoxall, LMC secretary in Somerset, where earlier this year GPs complained after a hospital employee looked up records of someone they were personally connected to.

'What I would like to see is a more secure system. We've been assured that there is an audit trail to prevent this, but that is only looked into when a complaint is made. What I'd like to see is random checking,' he said.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said that in the absence of more sophisticated systems he felt confident that professionalism and data trails were good enough deterrents to records system abuse.

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