Legal threat to practices withholding clinical data

Practices could face legal action and pay suspension if they refuse to hand over clinical data for publication by the NHS.

Clinical information will have to be released into the public domain (Photograph: JH Lancy)
Clinical information will have to be released into the public domain (Photograph: JH Lancy)

The Health Bill gives the NHS Information Centre powers to force NHS providers to supply 'any information' it requires. This is part of the government's push to improve collection and publication of information on health services.

The RCGP believes such legal powers could force doctors to choose between professional duty and legal obligation.

In March, the GPC warned that plans to publish practice level prescribing data could unfairly pressure GP decision making.

Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said those who fail to comply will have their pay suspended and face legal action.

Speaking at last week's NICE annual conference, Mr Straughan said the public and taxpayer had a right to know how NHS-funded services were performing. 'We need to use local contracts as a tool for saying: if you're going to provide local NHS funded services, you must provide us with these core datasets - to this quality and timescale. Otherwise the consequence is that you will not get paid,' he said.

He added: 'More people will be obliged, through legal action, to put that data - irrespective of what sector they are in - into the public domain. That's got to be done on a level playing field.'

Mr Straughan said the NHS was undergoing 'a transparency revolution ... whether we like it or not' that would also make providers accountable for the quality of data collected. 'We've got to make sure that everyone takes ownership and responsibility for that data, and only when we start to get that will we start to drive up data quality,' he said.

But RCGP chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada criticised this obligation in a recent letter to prime minister David Cameron (GP, 13 May). 'This creates a potential direct conflict for doctors between their professional duty and a legal duty, which goes far beyond the traditionally recognised duty to supply information in relation to serious crime, acts of terrorism or risk of serious infection,' she wrote.

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