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Government rules out exempting practices from GDPR subject access requests

by Helene Mulholland
3 January 2019

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Practices will not be given the right to charge for patient information requests as it would ‘weaken the rights of patients’, culture, media and sport minister Margot James has said.
Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in May, practices can no longer charge a nominal fee for digging out patient information.
GPs say that since the data has had to be provided for free, they have seen a large rise in time-consuming requests which is adding to costs and GP workloads
Alex Norris, the Labour MP for Nottingham North tabled a question asking what assessment had been made ‘of the potential merits of exempting general practices from the GDPR’.
Ms James replied: ‘The fundamental purpose of the General Data Protection Regulation is to provide individuals with greater protection and control over their personal data. 
‘Allowing general practices to charge for providing responses to subject access requests would weaken the right of patients.
‘General practices can still charge for repeat or excessive requests made by data subjects and for requests made by third parties such as insurers under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988.’
Ms James added that guidance on the Right to Access has been updated by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Earlier this year,  the BMA GP Committee urged practices to lobby their MPs to stop the use of data protection laws by solicitors and insurance companies that are ‘bombarding’ practice with requests for information.
Clive Elliott, business partner at Court Street Medical Practice, said Ms James’s response ignored the fact that the volume of requests was coming from third parties such as lawyers rather than patients.
Mr Elliott, who has written about the toll on practices of dealing with GDPR, said: ‘Clearly this is from a minister who has no understanding whatsoever of how general practice operates. This has absolutely no bearing on patients’ right to information.
‘This is about private profit-making solicitors’ firms who continue to receive a court fee but no longer make a contribution towards the costs of medical records. It means the NHS is now subsidising these private firms because we have to do the work for free.’
Mr Elliott added that it was ‘vital’ for the Government to look at the issue again.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s GP Committee, challenged the minister’s suggestion that general practices can still charge for repeat or excessive requests made by data subjects and for requests made by third parties such as insurers.
He said there has been ‘no definition of what is excessive’ and legal advice suggests this would be exceptional.
He added: ‘This reply therefore is of no help to practices struggling with increasing numbers of SARs requests which leads to major unfunded workload.’ 
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.