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Practices take urgent collective action to switch off GP Connect updates from Pharmacy First

by Anna Colivicchi
1 July 2024

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GPs across England took urgent action over the weekend to remove a GP Connect function that permits third parties to add codes to patient records from their systems, following instructions from the BMA.

Removing this GP Connect feature had originally been included in a BMA list suggesting ways for GPs to participate in industrial action from 1 August. The final decision to go ahead with collective action rests on the result of a ballot of GP partners that closes on Monday 29 July.

However, on Friday last week the BMA GP Committee England (GPCE) instructed practices to take immediate action at the weekend – earlier than planned – since it had found out that NHS England was making rapid moves to prevent practices having control, by taking away the ‘switch off’ feature.

The GP Connect Update Record API was rolled out in March to connect practices’ systems to community pharmacy and enable updates as part of the Pharmacy First scheme.

The GPCE said that while the functionality currently only permits Pharmacy First updates, taking action against it ‘is about its future potential, which will be ‘the biggest workload dump imaginable’.

Last Friday, GPCE chair Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer said that practices needed to ‘take steps now’ to switch the functionality off as the BMA has been ‘alerted to recent communications from NHS England’ opposing this action.

A BMA update sent to practice managers and GPs said: ‘Originally one of the actions within our GP practice survival toolkit, we are inviting GP partners to follow our guidance and take steps now to remove the GP Connect functionality which permits third parties to add codes to GP patient records.

‘We have been alerted to recent communications from NHSE (NHS England) to TPP and EMIS to frustrate this step, and remove GPs’ rights as the data controller to control this, by the start of July.

‘We will be writing urgently to TPP and EMIS to remind them of their legal responsibilities as data processors, but in the meantime advise practices to take action as soon as possible.’

Dr Bramall-Stainer also said taking this action was safe and didn’t constitute a breach of the GP contract.

In a video message sent to GPs, Dr Bramall-Stainer also said: ‘When this function was designed, NHS England said they did not want an off switch. But under GDPR, you as the practice, you are the data control over the patient record. TPP and EMIS are the data processor and the patient is the data subject.

‘So actually, as the data controller, you do need to have the ability to control what goes into the patient record by third parties.’

She added that the GPCE had been informed that NHS England ‘have asked for that off switch to be removed’ by today (1 July) and told practices that the weekend was ‘a critical window’ to act.

‘Do it this weekend, you’re the data controller, you carry the responsibility. This is not a breach. This is in fact protecting you under information governance, law and GDPR,’ Dr Bramall-Stainer said.

GPCE deputy chair Dr David Wrigley said that GPs across England have acted this weekend ‘on an important aspect over how our patients records are used’.

In a post on X, he said: ‘We have no issue with their use in A&E or hospital wards or outpatients but we worry this free-for-all proposed by NHSE will clog up the records and leave GPs with responsibility for other people’s decisions and prescriptions which diverts us away from direct patient care in our surgeries.’

NHS England, TPP and EMIS have been approached for comment.

A version of this story was first published by our sister title Pulse