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Prepare for automatic access over summer, practices advised

by Julie Griffiths
28 June 2023

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Surgeries should use the summer months to prepare for patients having online access to their GP records in October, NHS England has advised.

An update to the GP contract means practices must offer automatic access to prospective records via the NHS App to all patients, unless exceptions apply, by 31 October 2023.

But NHS England is encouraging practices to take action over the summer months so they can switch on access ahead of the October deadline and has provided updated guidance and support to help practices achieve this.

It has outlined several advantages of switching on early. One is that practices can access dedicated support and guidance from NHS England, as well as any follow-up support needed. This includes being guided through the steps required for access to be switched on, such as correcting global configuration settings and informing staff. 

Taking action over the summer also means the system will be ready by winter, said NHS England. ‘As patients can only see new record entries, it will take time for patients to discover the new functionality and for the practice to fully benefit. This is particularly the case for patients with long term conditions who regularly use GP services’, it explained. ‘By switching on this summer it will be embedded by the winter’, the guidance said.  

Giving patients access to their online health records earlier could also help to reduce phone calls made to the practice and therefore ease the pressure on reception staff, said NHS England. And it has said early adopter practices have reported a reduction in Subject Access Requests since switching on, saving time handling those requests.

There is a GP readiness checklist to help practices undertake the essential first steps and that signposts to other useful resources such as the RCGP GP Online Services Toolkit.

EMIS practices can request their systems are updated by completing an opt-in form and selecting an available date. There are limited slots available, so practices are encouraged to book early.

TPP practices that are ready to switch on automatic access will soon be able to update their systems themselves easily and at a time that suits them.

Meanwhile, NHS England has also updated guidance for staff who send correspondence to general practice, such as from secondary, community and mental health services.

The guidance has reminded these services to record clinical correspondence to general practice ‘in a way that both conveys the necessary detail to other professionals and considers the impact on patients reading such a letter’.

It said that clinicians should mark clearly ‘not for disclosure to patient’ if they feel the practice should redact their correspondence.

The guidance sets out the reasons this might be required. For example, if clinicians don’t wish a patient to view sensitive test results or diagnosis before they have spoken to the patient in person, the guidance suggests marking it ‘not for disclosure to the patient’ or waiting until after the meeting to communicate with the practice.  Other reasons for marking up correspondence in this way include safeguarding concerns or fears around security.

The guidance reminds staff that ‘it is not possible to redact parts of letters or other correspondence, only whole items’. 

Earlier this month, the BMA said it was preparing to launch a legal challenge over the  imposed contractual requirement to offer patients access to prospective records.