Obtain consent for e-records

GPs could face legal action if they allow patient data to be uploaded to the NHS spine without having face-to-face discussions with patients or receiving explicit consent.

A GPC IT expert has backed MDU guidance warning GPs that Connecting for Health advice on sharing summary care records does not cover GPs’ ethical duties to patients in full.

The MDU advice says GPs may not be able to rely on the ‘implied consent’ model proposed by Connecting for Health, in which patients receive a letter and are assumed to have agreed to share their data if they fail to reply after eight weeks.

The MDU says that GPs will need to ‘satisfy themselves that that the Connecting for Health publicity campaign had reached all their patients, that patients had read and understood the leaflets and, if the GP had not heard from them, that they had decided not to seek an appointment with the GP to ask any questions, and not to opt out’.

The advice points out that the initial roll out of the summary care record will only cover a limited amount of data — including current medications, adverse drug reactions and allergies —  but that the intention is to add further data in the future.

GPs should consider contacting patients again for a second stage of explicit consent to this additional data being uploaded.

Joint GPC/RCGP IT committee chairman Dr Paul Cundy said: ‘Any GP that allows a wholesale upload of data from their practice is foolish in the extreme. The correct approach is a slow accumulation of records on the spine, uploaded after patients specifically request their data be shared, or following opportunistic discussions in consultations.’

Dr Cundy said that most practices would see 90 per cent of their patients within a three-year period. He applauded the MDU guidance for ‘saying what needs to be said’.

However, joint GP clinical lead for Connecting for Health Dr Gillian Braunold denied there was a risk to GPs from the implied consent model.

‘The BMA has backed this model for areas where summary records are being piloted,’ she said. She pointed out that in Hampshire and part of Scotland where summary records have been rolled out, very few patients objected to data being shared.

On Dr Cundy’s suggestions she said: ‘GPs don’t want to have discussions with every patient about the implications of summary records — this would be impossible in consultations.’

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