Jeremy Hunt renewed a pledge to give most patients access to medical records as well as online appointment booking and repeat prescription ordering services by next year.
Speaking at NHS England’s Innovation Expo in Manchester on Tuesday the health secretary said electronic GP records would be made available to a third of NHS111 centres, a third of ambulance services and a third of A&E departments by the end of 2014.
The GPC has previously raised security and confidentiality concerns over online medical records.
Mr Hunt said greater access to records across the NHS was the backbone of service integration and would make a ‘massive difference to people working incredibly hard under a great deal of pressure in A&E departments’.
‘We should remember that last year 44 people died in the NHS because they were given the wrong medicine, so to be able to see someone’s medication or prescription history or somebody’s allergies has a dramatic impact on patient safety.’
Some GPs, Mr Hunt acknowledged, would be ‘horrified’ by the prospect of patients being able to email them for e-consultations. But he said: ‘If you talk to GPs who do consultations by email, they actually wouldn’t do it any other way.' He said email access to GPs provides a great deal of flexibility for providers as well as patients.
He told an NHS111 call handler in the audience that he wanted to ‘allow 111 operators to use more of their judgment’ and simplify the computer algorithm used as well as giving them access to patient records.
Questioned by a carer about responsibility in the system for dementia patients, Mr Hunt suggested he wanted to expand the ‘named GP’ role for over-75s.
‘I think there is a specific accountability, which is to know where the buck stops in the NHS,' he said. ‘From this April you will have named GPs for all over-75s. That’ll be a big first step. I’d like to take that further.’
Despite a tough year for the NHS, Mr Hunt said he was optimistic for the future because of the opportunities for improving care created by the ‘technological revolution’.
The health service should learn from industries such as banking and retail in using technology to transform the way it does things.
On the care.data row Mr Hunt said hospital data had been used in research for years without patients knowing, but it was ‘big and significant’ for NHS England to allow patients to opt out. ‘We are the first country in the world that is saying that. And we are saying that because we want to take the public with us.’
The ‘transparency revolution’, he said, was about telling the public ‘exactly what is happening with their data’.
Plans to extract patient data from records for use in research have been put on hold for six months following concerns from GPs and patients.
Health commentator and former health trust chairman Roy Lilley told the Manchester conference the public did not trust government with their data because ‘the Conservatives lied to us in the last election'. 'They said we’re not going to change the NHS,’ he added.
‘We don’t trust the government, that’s the problem. They lied to us about the Health and Social Care Act; they could be lying to us about the use of our data.’
NHS England’s national director for patient and information Tim Kelsey, who is leading the care.data programme, admitted the information campaign ‘wasn’t good enough’.
There were real and proper concerns about the safety of sharing data, he said, and now the NHS had ‘lead a proper conversation’ about this ‘crucial change’.
Chairman of the BMA’s ethics committee Dr Tony Calland said GPs had two major concerns, over breaching medical confidentiality and over their data controller responsibilities.