GPs could face investigation if patients opt out of data sharing

GP practices could face penalties or an investigation if a large proportion of patients opt out of NHS data sharing arrangements, a health minister's response to a parliamentary question suggests.

GP data: could practices be fined if patients opt out?

Health minister Dr Daniel Poulter failed to rule out penalising GP practices with a higher-than-average proportion of patients opting out of new NHS data sharing arrangements.

In a written answer to Labour MP Rosie Cooper, Dr Poulter also refused to say what level of patient opt-out from the new care.data scheme would trigger an investigation into a practice.

Health select committee member Ms Cooper tabled three parliamentary questions on arrangements for practices where a large proportion of patients choose not to share their data.

Under the care.data scheme patients have the right to withhold their data, but they must make an appointment with their practice to do so. GP practices cannot choose to opt-out.

Asked whether practices would be penalised, who would investigate practices with a high opt-out rate, and at what threshold this would apply, Mr Poulter said: ‘NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre will work with the BMA, the RCGP, the Information Commissioner’s Office and with the Care Quality Commission to review and work with GP practices that have a high proportion of objections on a case-by-case basis.'

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said that while Mr Poulter had not ruled out penalising GP practices, he did not suggest that it would happen. ‘I'm sure he appreciates that it would be wholly inappropriate to penalise GPs for the decisions made by patients,’ Dr Vautrey said. ‘There are no proposals to impose any penalties on practices.’

Ms Cooper said: ‘Whilst the health secretary is publicly promising to respect patients’ confidentiality, in private GPs are being threatened and bullied into ensuring patients don’t choose to opt-out.’

Reacting on Twitter, NHS national director for patients and information Tim Kelsey ruled out fines for practices where large numbers of patients opt not to share data. He wrote: 'Nobody is going to get fined if patients opt out.'

A DH spokeswoman also ruled out fines. She said: 'It's wrong to say we are planning to fine GPs - we want to work with practices if they have high levels of unexpected variation and support them if they need it.' She said Dr Poulter's response had not been specific on how this would work 'because there is no one-size-fits-all answer'.

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