GP leaders endorse advice on safety of patient records

GPs are to receive guidance from the Wellcome Trust to ensure that patient records are used safely in medical research.

Photograph: Istock
Photograph: Istock

The guidance has received the backing of both the RCGP and the BMA and will aim to safeguard patient confidentiality and privacy.

The guidance states that where anonymised, non-identifiable records are used for research, it is not necessary to seek consent from patients.

But the use of identifiable records, which may be needed to answer certain research questions, requires patients to be informed about the research and asked to consent.

The Wellcome Trust says that further thought needs to be given as to how to ask for consent.

The GPC has suggested that a new check box, with a default position of ‘not consenting’, should be added to the GMS1 registration form to allow patients to consent to be approached to participate in research, in a similar fashion to the organ donation tick box.

The guidance also sets out how to use privacy-enhancing technologies such as safe havens and encryption.

Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘There are over 44,000 GPs in the UK, and their support is essential if we are to maintain trust in how patients’ medical records are accessed for research purposes.’

RCGP chairman Professor Steve Field, added: ‘GPs will find these new guidelines extremely useful, they are an excellent first step towards ensuring best practice.’

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