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Practices advised to delay patient access to records on NHS app until it’s safe

by Julie Griffiths
26 October 2022

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GP practices should consider delaying patients’ automatic access to records via the NHS app if they aren’t ready for the switch, both the BMA and RCGP have urged.

Going ahead if not fully prepared would jeopardise patient safety, they have warned.

From 1 November, patients will automatically be able to read new entries in their GP health record through the NHS app in an initiative led by NHS England. 

But the BMA said that some practices may need more time to be ready to roll it out safely and in line with their obligations under the Data Protection Act.

As data controllers of the GP record, practices must ensure appropriate safeguarding measures are in place to protect patients. For example, this may apply to those living with abusive partners or patients with particular mental health conditions.

BMA’s England GP Committee said that practices not ready to roll out the programme next week safely should delay.  It suggested those surgeries write to their system supplier and request that activation is temporarily delayed.

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of the BMA’s GP committee in England, said delaying activation would provide extra time to ensure that any potentially harmful or sensitive data is reviewed and, if necessary, redacted in the interests of the patient.

‘It’s only right that patients have access to their GP-held medical records, but this must be done carefully and with the appropriate safeguards in place to protect them from potential harm,’ he said.

Dr Wrigley added that practices ‘even slightly unsure’ about their ability to deliver automatic access safely should think twice.

‘We have a duty of care to speak up when patient safety is at risk, which is why we encourage practices even slightly unsure about whether they can deliver this programme before the start of November, to refer to our guidance,’ he said.

The RCGP also advised practices to delay if they felt going ahead would jeopardise patient safety.

Both BMA and RCGP have issued guidance to support practices.

The BMA guidance features a template letter that practices can send to their system suppliers – who have control over centrally switching on the programme to allow default record access – asking them not to convert them to the new system until they are fully prepared.

The RCGP’s GP online services toolkit outlines how to apply opt-out codes to prevent automatic access for patients for whom it is considered unsafe.

The RCGP said it had raised concerns with NHS England ‘on a regular basis’ and has urged NHS England to ‘carefully consider’ whether the rollout should go ahead as planned. It said that ‘practices should not be left to address these risks alone’.

As well as prospective records access, NHS England plans to enable patients to request their historic GP records through the NHS App from next year.

But the BMA guidance has highlighted possible workload implications of expanding the programme in 2023, noting that this instruction comes at a time of immense pressure and soaring patient demand.

NHS Digital had first intended for patients to have access to new entries in their GP notes through the NHS app in December 2021 at practices using TPP. EMIS practices were to follow this year.

But the launch date was delayed until April 2022 for both systems after the BMA wrote to NHSX expressing its concerns about the timing of the rollout.

It was then delayed again, with NHS England recognising concerns around ‘safeguarding’.

Meanwhile, it was revealed last week that GP practices registering new patients would have to repeat the work already done by the previous practice of redacting their record.