GP practices are dealing with a barrage of subject access requests (SARs) since the new GDPR data protection regulations were introduced earlier this year.
A BMA survey of 1,500 GPs showed that SARs have increased by over a third (36%) since the rules – which mean practices can no longer charge a nominal fee for such requests – came into force in May.
The BMA’s GP Committee said the requests, a majority of which come from companies such as solicitors acting on behalf of patients, are taking away valuable GP time that could be spent treating patients.
The BMA asked practices how many SARs they received each month on average in the year prior to the introduction of GDPR, and how many they had received in the last calendar month.
It found that the average before May was 8.57 requests a month, while the average received in the past month was 11.68, suggesting a rise of 36%.
The survey further found that 77% of the requests were made by companies – including solicitors and insurers, acting on patients’ behalf – while just 22% came from patients themselves.
The BMA blamed GDPR legislation, following which practices can no longer charge a ‘reasonable’ fee for SARs, but they must be done for free unless the request is ‘manifestly unfounded’ or ‘excessive’.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘While patients have every right to access their own medical records, the majority of these requests are from companies potentially exploiting a system by which they no longer have to pay out of their own pocket and so the cost is transferred to the NHS – coming at a serious price for general practice.’
He pointed out that these costs are not covered by the GP contract, adding that the GPC is pushing for this to change in ongoing negotiations with the Government regarding the 2019/20 contract.
He said: ‘The work required to process records or produce reports is not part of the NHS contract, which means doctors and their teams are now having to cope with this growing workload at the expense of other important activities – and crucially, time spent on this is taken away from providing core services to patients.
‘If practices are expected to meet the demand for these requests and [they] are unable to charge a fee for reports to cover their costs, then the Government must provide funding, and we are actively pushing for this in ongoing contract negotiations.’
Dr Vautrey further called on the health secretary – whose agenda is heavily focused on digitalisation of the NHS – to ‘commit to an ITsolution that would allow all practices to offer patients access to their entire record in a safe and secure way’, reducing the workload related to SARs.
He said: ‘This would relieve GPs and their staff of some of the administrative workload burden of dealing with such requests, prove far more cost effective in the long-term and empower patients by having a greater understanding of their care.’
In August, GP leaders asked practices write to their MPs to complain about the use of data protection laws by solicitors and insurance companies that were ‘bombarding’ practice with requests for information.
Clive Elliott, business partner at Court Street Medical Centre in Telford, said he wasn’t surprised by the BMA survey’s findings as his practice has also seen an increase in the number of SARs since the introduction of GDPR.
He added: ‘The Government’s complacency on this issue is staggering as not only are we now subsidising solicitors firms, we are also experiencing an increase in requests.
‘No one is suggesting charging patients for access to their records – that would not be fair – but the NHS is now subsidising profit making legal firms by having to do this work for free.’
A version of this story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.