GPs call for action over 'excessive' workload linked to GDPR

LMCs have called for a clear set of guidelines about what could be classed as an 'excessive' amount of work when responding to subject access requests, which would then enable GP practices to charge for the work involved.

Delegates at the UK LMCs conference in Belfast today voted in favour of a series of motions relating to the impact the GDPR has had on practice workload. They also called on the UK governments to recognise the extra workforce required to comply with regulations and fund it fully and to adapt the regulations to reduce the impact on practices.

Proposing the motion Dr Ashok Rayani from Morgannwg LMC argued: ‘A charge can be levied if the [subject access request] is excessive, but the regulations do not state what is excessive, it is not defined in the Act and it is open to interpretation.

‘The ICO has decided excessive means a repeat requests for the same information. In our opinion excessive should also include the volume of the paper record and the time take for GPs to redact third party information.’

Responding to the debate, GPC IT lead Dr Paul Cundy said that the GPC was currently working on a ‘code of conduct’ for GPs and those requesting SARs, which will ‘explicitly state that the default position for a SAR is that the patient should be offered online access to their record and they should then be allowed to share it with whoever they like’. He said this would ‘require some tinkering to the current system but it should provide a solution’.

Legal test case

However delegates urged the BMA to bring a test case ‘in order to prevent the injustice of general practice being a photocopying and postal service for lawyers continuing in perpetuity’.

Dr Barry Moyse from Somerset LMC said: ‘SARs were never intended to turn general practice into a free service for lawyers wanting a report. These are fake SARs.

‘But BMA and ICO advice is that SARs should be "purpose blind" and gallingly this is parroted back at us when they are requested. But other legal opinions are available. The [funding in the new contract] is welcome, but it only sugars the pill. It does nothing to root out the injustice.

‘The Data Protection Act is untested. Bad laws can be changed so the GPC should challenge this bad law in the courts. It’s time to get off our knees and fight back.’

The new five-year GP contract in England will see an extra £20m added to the global sum to cover the costs associated with subject access requests now GPs have to provide them for free under the GDPR. This will remain in place until April 2022, by which time the BMA and NHS England believe the digitalisation of Lloyd George records will be complete and patients will have access to their full historic records online.

However, Dr Rayani said the amount negotiated was a 'pittance' and not enough to cover the work involved.

Data controller

In a separate debate LMCs also warned that the GP’s role as data controller was no longer compatible with modern general practice. They backed a motion that said the time and financial resources taken up by being the data controller impeded the ability of practices to deliver clinical care and caused an unacceptable risk to individual practices who may inadvertently breach regulations.

However, they also rejected part of the motion that called for the role to be 'taken over by a dedicated team at NHS England or equivalent'.

Dr Paul Evans from Gateshead and South Tyneside LMC said that practices did not have the staff and resources to meet the demands of the GDPR and the increased financial risk associated with fines for data breaches could ‘sink a practice in one swoop’.

However, Dr Alastair Taylor from Glasgow LMC highlighted that changes to GMS regulations in Scotland earlier this year mean that health boards and GP practices are now seen as joint controllers of data.

Full text of motions debated

That conference feels the impact of GDPR on practice workload has been significant and calls on:

(i) all UK governments to recognise the extra workforce required to comply with regulations and fund it fully
(ii) the UK government to ensure inappropriate requests for reports masquerading as subject access requests are appropriately penalised
(iii) the UK government to adapt the regulations to reverse the impact on GP practices
(iv) the GPC to take appropriate action, including funding a test case if necessary, to establish case law to prevent the injustice of general practice being a photocopying and postal service for lawyers continuing in perpetuity
(v) GPC, NHS Bodies, the Information Commissioner’s Offie, Law Society and Association of British Insurers to develop a set of guidelines as to what is a reasonable and proportionate response and what is ‘excessive’.

All parts of the motion were carried.

Full coverage of UK LMCs conference

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