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Practices to give patients full digital access to medical records retrospectively from April 2020

by Valeria Fiore
4 February 2019

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Practices will be requested to offer patients online access to their full medical records retrospectively from April 2020, as stated in the GP contract.
GP practices will be expected to make progress in 2019/20 towards offering online medical records, a requirement that will become contractual from April 2020, according to the new GP contract.
From April 2019, practices will start providing new patients with ‘full online access to prospective data subject to existing safeguards for vulnerable groups and third party confidentiality and system functionality’, the contract outlines.
According to guidance by the BMA, patients will be able to access their health data using ‘NHS login identity verification’ but will only be able to add their own information and access their full records retrospectively from April 2020.
Access to medical records
As part of the five-year contract, NHS England and the BMA agreed to a £20m funding boost added to the global sum each year for the next three years – to cover thecosts associated with subject access requests (SARs), which under GDPR are no longer chargeable.
According to BMA guidance, ‘this funding will remain within global sum until an IT solution is in place to allow patients to access their information without burden to the practice’.
Patients are expected to be able to access their medical records online from the NHS App, which is currently being rolled out nationally and should be available for all patients by 1 July 2019.
The cost of digitisation  
A BMA spokesperson said there are many ways for practices to digitalise records, but at no point should practices pay for the digitisation of medical records.
They said: ‘Some practices have received funding from their CCG to employ someone on a fixed term contract to digitise records. Some have received funding to outsource the digitisation altogether. NHS Business Services Authority has some process to assist with digitisation (currently at a cost).
‘We do not expect practices to have to pay for this themselves – as with other IT and software, it is CCGs responsibility to provide the resource to practices free of charge.’
‘There will also be added benefit for practices, who will be able to make use of current records rooms, as other space.’
Additional workload
Steve Williams, co-chair of the Practice Management Network said that practices have already undertaken a ‘large amount of work in the field of detailed coded online records’ but uptake varies across the country.
He added: ‘Providing the funding is made available to allow systems to be updated, although it will possibly generate additional work in the short term, it should improve efficiency in the long term.
Giving patients online access to their own records is ‘an essential component of person centred care’, according to Daniel Vincent, practice manager and managing partner at Ryalls Park Medical Centre in Somerset.
He said: ‘We would need financial and logistical support to digitise paper records [but] the [ease] of access and floor space would be welcomed.   
‘We have slowly been growing the number of patients who have online access for appointment booking and medication requesting, adding medical record access to these patients is a relatively easy process.  Adding new users takes a little longer as we require the patient to attend the practice.’
However, allowing patients to add notes to their records might overwhelm practices, according to Flynn Reid, practice manager at The Abingdon Surgery in Oxon.
She said: ‘They are not medical professionals and if they start putting in what they think is wrong with them or disagreeing with their GP, it will be a complete mess.
‘Patients can already access their medical records online in most places. They can only see the elements that have been digitised [however] – early records still on paper will not be digitised without financial assistance from the NHS as too much work is involved.’