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New information service will tap into GP records

Strict rules will govern what patient information is passed on

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 23 August 2013

A new information service that promises to improve health care will tap into GP patient records, but be protected by strict rules that allow patients to object.

NHS England has announced its care.data service that will use information from a patient’s medical record to allow for improvements in the way that healthcare is delivered generally.

Under the Health and Social Care Act, changes were introduced that allow the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) to collect and share confidential information from medical records at GP practices without seeking patient consent.

One of the first changes using these new powers is the launch of the care.data service this autumn.

The aim of this service, which is commissioned by NHS England and will be delivered by the HSCIC, is to make better use of the valuable information in medical records to improve quality of patient care.

The dataset that will be extracted from GP systems for the care.data service includes personal confidential data such as referrals, all NHS prescriptions and other clinical data.

Identifiers such as date of birth, postcode, NHS number and gender, are required by the HSCIC to link the GP data with personal confidential data from other care settings, like hospitals, in order to analyse patient care across pathways.

NHS England stressed that the service will only use the minimum amount of information needed to help improve patient care and health services provided in the community.

A thorough process must be followed before any information can be shared and strict rules about how information is stored and used will apply.

Materials and guidance, including guidance for GPs, have been developed collaboratively by the HSCIC, BMA and the RCGP, to support practices to raise awareness.

Patients who are not happy for their data to be used in this way can ask their GP practice to make a note of this in their medical record. Doing so will prevent their information leaving the practice and GPs are advised to make patients aware of the system in case they wish to opt out of it.

The BMA said it had worked with NHS England and the RCGP to ensure these changes did not undermine existing standards of patient confidentiality.

In a joint statement, co-signed by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee and Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the RCGP, they said: “Greater transparency and better use of data to improve the quality of patient care are ambitions we can all support.

“Anyone making healthcare decisions needs access to high quality information: doctors need it to inform their clinical decision making; patients need it when deciding which treatment is best for them; and commissioners need it when making decisions about which services are right for their populations.

“These changes must not threaten the confidential nature of the health service.”

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