Essex GP demands more time to warn patients about data extraction

A GP in Essex has written to NHS officials urging them not to extract data from his records system until he contacts patients to ask for their consent.

Dr John Cormack: patient data concerns
Dr John Cormack: patient data concerns

Essex GP Dr John Cormack wrote to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to argue that simply putting up posters in waiting rooms and making leaflets available did not go far enough to offer patients the chance to opt out of having data extracted from GP systems.

A letter sent to GPs across England by NHS England and the HSCIC gave practices 'approximately eight weeks' to inform patients of plans to extract data from their records.

But Dr Cormack wrote back: 'The only way of adequately meeting my "fair processing obligations as a data controller" is to get the permission of my patients for their confidential medical records to be used in the ways you describe.

‘This is a major task - and particularly so in a practice like this which is underfunded to a quite extraordinary extent. The challenge is, therefore, to try to undertake this task without diverting funds away from patient care.

‘Although I have made a start, I will need more than eight weeks to complete this task, and I ask, therefore, that you do not extract any data until such time as I am able to tell you which patients have consented to have their confidential records shared with third parties.’

GP practices have been asked to begin informing patients about the impending data extraction by the HSCIC under the programme. Unless patients opt out, personal data including postcodes and NHS numbers will be extracted from GP records under the programme.

An NHS England spokeswoman said it had not yet set a date for the data extraction, which was due to begin this autumn, but that practices would have a ‘minimum’ of eight weeks to inform their patients.

GP practices, as data controllers, could be fined up to £500,000 under the Data Protection Act if they do not inform all patients about plans to extract personal data from their GP records, pressure group Big Brother Watch has warned.

The GPC has warned that most patients do not know about the programme and has called on NHS England to raise public awareness.

LMCs have raised concerns that posters provided by NHS England for GPs to display in practices will not reach the wider public.

The government has warned that GP practices with ‘an abnormal number of objections’ face being investigated by the BMA and NHS England.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: ‘Advice sought by NHS England and the HSCIC suggested that GP practices should have a minimum of eight weeks to inform and discuss with their patients before extracts of data begin under the programme,’ she said.

‘We are clear, however that eight weeks is a minimum requirement, not a maximum, and have always been committed to doing everything we can to ensure patients’ understanding of the programme and of their rights for their objections to be recorded if they have concerns.

‘NHS England and the HSCIC have not yet set a date for the first extractions of data from GP practices and we are continuing to develop further awareness on a regional and national basis, working with the Information Commissioner’s Office and with the RCGP.’

A HSCIC spokesperson was unavailable to comment.

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