Doctors’ leaders have written to health minister Ben Bradshaw calling for a halt to the roll-out of the NHS’s controversial summary care record until the results of pilot schemes have been reviewed.
The summary care record – containing key health information that can be used to help patients in an emergency – is a key element of the NHS’s £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).
But the British Medical Association has repeatedly raised concerns about patient consent and the confidentiality of the electronic records, which are to be uploaded to a national data “spine”.
At its annual conference in June, the doctors’ union voted to not cooperate with the proposed centralised storage of all medical records due to concerns about security and confidentiality. The BMA also called for a public inquiry into NPfIT, the problems it has encountered and the cost to taxpayers.
BMA chair Hamish Meldrum has now written to Bradshaw urging him to “generate confidence” in the summary care record by ensuring there is no further its roll-out until an independent review of six planned pilots is completed, and a way forward has been agreed by an NPfIT summary care record advisory group.
Meldrum’s letter also calls on the minister to work with the BMA to agree a “code of practice/service level agreement” for uploading summary care record information.
The minister should also “seek a definitive legal opinion” on questions raised during hearings of the Commons health select committee about the legality of the records in relation both to the UK’s Data Protection Act and EU directives.
At present, only four of the six planned pilot areas for the summary care record have been named. In Bolton and Bury primary care trusts, local GP practices have started uploading the summary records, while Dorset PCT has begun a preparatory public information excercise and South Birmingham PCT has been announced as a fourth test area.
Meldrum’s letter also raises doctors’ concerns about other areas of the NHS’s huge computer project, calling on ministers to “negotiate a choice of systems for secondary care within an agreed framework” – an attempt to unlock NHS trusts from the systems centrally procured by NHS Connecting for Health, which runs NPfIT.
The letter also calls for “an open, two-way reporting mechanism” between users and suppliers to address technical problems and for the government to work with the BMA on “continuing issues” with the Choose and Book hospital appointment booking software.