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NHS England denies opt-out button being removed from GP Connect ‘update record’ feature

by Rima Evans
4 July 2024

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NHS England has denied BMA claims that it is trying to remove practices’ control over the GP Connect function that allows patient records to be updated after a Pharmacy First consultation.

Turning off the GP Connect Update Record feature had originally been included in a BMA list suggesting ways for GPs to participate in industrial action from 1 August. 

However, last week, the BMA instructed GPs to switch off the functionality straightaway rather than wait, saying that NHS England was trying to ‘frustrate’ collective action by asking IT suppliers to disable the ‘switch off’ feature.

Now, a letter sent this week to practice managers and GPs and signed by NHS England’s director of primary care, Dr Amanda Doyle, has said this claim was ‘inaccurate’.

‘GP IT suppliers are not removing the opt-out button,’ she said. ‘It is inaccurate to suggest that there are any imminent changes being made to stop GPs switching off GP Connect functionality if they choose to.’

Every practice has a choice of how to configure their GP IT system, Dr Doyle added.

Dr Doyle went on to say that the Update Record functionality that should be used after a Pharmacy First, Blood Pressure or Contraception Service consultation was designed to increase clinical safety and reduce practices’ workload.

She explained: ‘Instead of having to manually reconcile information from NHS Mail into the patient record, practices can see the consultation outcomes and any medications issued directly in their workflow, where they can check before accepting, using one-click. As more community pharmacy suppliers roll out this new functionality, practices will see more messages arrive in this way. Practices are already providing positive feedback on the new approach.’

Ultimately, however, she said it is up to practices whether they ‘choose to take advantage of this new enhancement or choose to manually transcribe from email messages’.

Neither choice has any impact on GP’s responsibilities as data controllers, Dr Doyle added. 

A key concern raised by the GPCE was that the software change, which had been rolled out in March, could in future lead to the ‘the biggest workload dump imaginable’.

But Dr Doyle said: ‘There is no plan currently to extend this functionality beyond Pharmacy First, Blood Pressure or Contraception Service consultation messages. Any changes would always involve consultation with the BMA and RCGP.’

GPCE deputy chair and digital lead Dr David Wrigley said that the committee is still recommending practices turn the Update Record facility off.

He said: ‘We are recommending to GPs that they turn off the Update Record facility on GP Connect at the present time while we engage in discussions with NHSE to better understand the implications of this software.

‘As GPs are responsible for the information within a patient’s record – which can be now viewed by a patient – we are concerned about changes that allow others to add diagnoses, observations and medications.

‘These changes could have unintended consequences and add further pressure to the GP needing to ensure follow up and ongoing care is provided to the patient due to other clinicians decisions and actions.

‘This will include more requests for follow ups and support for patients for work initiated by others outside the practice team.

‘As data controllers, GPs have a responsibility to have full oversight of the data of their patients. We’re not saying “no” to this development, just “not yet”.’

Meanwhile, pharmacists told our sister title The Pharmacist they have will have to revert to using old systems or even paper-based solutions if practices switch off the Update Record, which will likely add to their workload.

Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said: ‘Like community pharmacy teams, we know general practices are also feeling the strain of increasing demand with little support in return, so it does seem counterintuitive to switch off functionality designed to reduce administrative workload at practices and improve patient safety’.