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GPC encourages practices to flag concerns over SARs charges with their MP

by Valeria Fiore
10 August 2018

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The BMA General Practitioners Committee (GPC) is encouraging GP practices to contact their local MPs and draw attention to the new costs practices face as a result of GDPR.
GPC policy lead for IT Dr Paul Cundy requested that LMCs ask practices to modify and forward a template letter to their local MPs, in a bid to raise awareness of the ‘unintended consequences of the recent adoption of GDPR’.
It comes as practices can no longer charge for SARs since GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 came into force on 25 May.
Dr Cundy’s template is a modified version of a letter previously sent by a practice manager to their local MP.
The letter resulted in the secretary of state for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock being ‘forwarded a note from the MP’, Dr Cundy said in his email to LMCs.
He told Management in Practice: ‘We are encouraging GPs and their teams to write to their local MP asking them to pressure the Government to consider the damaging impact this legislation is having on hardworking family doctors.’
SARs free of charge
The template letter – shared by Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs on their website – mentions that since 25 May GP practices need to compile patient records either ‘pro bono or in reality [using] NHS resources’.
The letter said: ‘A GP can take up to 30 minutes to review a set of records and the administration time, including receiving, processing, tracking and despatching them, can amount to an hour for each extract. This equates to an average of £60 per request. In addition we are expected to cover the costs of postage.’
A growing number of practices are approaching the BMA with concerns over the high volume of SARs they have received from third parties since GDPR was introduced, Dr Cundy told Management in Practice.
He added: ‘By exploiting changes in the law, companies who would once have had to pay out of their own pockets – such as solicitors and insurance firms – are bombarding practices with requests.
‘As a service not covered by the NHS contract it is unfunded, meaning GPs and their teams are effectively working for free, and crucially any time spent compiling what can often be lengthy reports is time taken away from direct patient care.
‘At a time when general practice and the NHS at large is already under intense financial pressure, it is inordinately unfair to expect individual practices to absorb the rising costs of these requests – which will easily run into thousands of pounds a year.’
The RCGP recently called for an extra £2.5bn a year to be injected into general practice by 2020/21, as it said that it has become more challenging to provide general practice services in the past two years.
Richard Miller, practice manager at the Great Bentley Surgery in Colchester said:
‘The loss of income is significant in some cases, but as the [GPC] letter points out, this takes GPs away from caring for sick patients due to the time they have to spend reviewing every page of medical notes before they can be sent.’
When can practices charge a fee?
BMA guidance on access to medical records states that ‘patients must be given access to their medical records as a subject access request (SAR) free of charge’, and that includes cases where a solicitor acts on behalf on a patient.
Practices can, however, charge a fee if the request falls under the Access to Medical Report Act.
This applies when a patient or third party asks for a medical report to be created, or when its is required to interpret information in a medical report or record, ‘as these both require new data to be created, which [falls beyond] the scope of GDPR and subject access requests’, the BMA states. 
Practice managers can charge for SARs if the request is deemed ‘manifestly unfounded or excessive’, according to GDPR, and the BMA is currently seeking clarification from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on what constitutes an ‘unfounded or excessive’ request.
Clive Elliott, business partner at Court Street Medical Practice in Telford, said:
‘I welcome greater transparency under GDPR but it is, quite frankly, a scandal that solicitors and companies that collate papers for [our patients] are exploiting the new law to make bigger and bigger profits while the NHS bears the cost.
‘If the Government does not take urgent action the NHS will have to make cuts to patient care to fund this whilst private companies and solicitors increase their profits.’