should be opt-in, say GPs

Data extraction from patient records for should be 'opt-in' and take place only with the 'explicit and informed consent' of patients, GP leaders have said.

Dr Wyatt, Calderdale LMC, said should be delayed until it is safe (Photo: Pete Hill)

Three-quarters of LMC representatives (74%) at their annual conference in York last week said they believed extraction should be reliant on patients opting-in to the programme. A total of 22% disagreed, while 4% abstained.

Delegates at the LMC conference also said data should be pseudonymised or anonymised before it leaves practices, to maximise security and prevent later identification of patients.

Dr Christine Harris from Bedfordshire LMC described how GPs were trapped in an impossible ‘catch-22’ situation. ‘The Health and Social Care Act says that GPs are legally required to provide data to the Health and Social Care Information Centre for the programme,’ she said.

But, she continued, under the Data Protection Act, GPs are also controllers of patient records, meaning they have a duty to ensure a person’s personal data is handled transparently and in a way they would ‘reasonably expect’.

She suggested that, since most patients would likely expect GPs to ‘keep their confidential data confidential’, this leaves GPs stuck in an impossible situation where they ‘obey one act and we fall foul of the other’.

She went on to detail how patients who felt inadequately informed could hold GPs directly responsible for what happens to their data without their express permission, warning it was only ‘a matter of time’ until a GP gets sued.

Delay until it is safe

Dr Kate Gurney from Devon LMC urged GPs at the conference to ‘put aside your medical hat for a moment’ and think about their own personal records. ‘How many of you would choose to opt out?’

She added: ‘I would urge the government to halt this data transfer until every single patient has received a personal letter, with a reply slip to complete, giving their express consent to opt in. But this responsibility should not fall to an already overstretched profession.’

GPs also approved the delay of the roll out until the autumn. But Dr Ben Wyatt, Calderdale LMC, expressed concern that the conference should not have approved the decision. ‘This suggests it will be okay in the autumn,’ he said. ‘It should be delayed until it is safe.’

GPs rejected the idea of relinquishing their control over patient records. In support of the motion, Dr Mark Brooke, Bradford and Airedale LMC, said GPs had ‘lost control over medical records’ but were still ‘forced to make sure they are safe’.

But Glasgow LMC’s Dr John Ip said this would be a mistake, and GPs would end up like their colleagues in hospitals who are ‘frustrated and have little say and influence over what happens with their records’.

He said: ‘The GP record is without a doubt the most textured and best quality record in the NHS – conference, I ask you to reject, keep the GP record under the custodian of GPs.’

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