National Care Records Service – BMA Seeks Urgent Clarification

In the face of a government letter to patients rejecting their request to opt out of inclusion in a national electronic database of health records, the British Medical Association (BMA) is seeking urgent assurances from the Department of Health over the way the National Care Records Service will operate. Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA’s GPs Committee, said:

“We will be seeking urgent clarification on behalf of patients from the Department of Health as this seems to be a total turn-around on the assurances previously given by ministers that individual patients would be able to opt out of having their personal health records on the national database if they did not wish them to be included. The health department now seems to making a distinction between consent to sharing the personal information and consent to having the information put on the central database.

“Patients must be able to retain the right not to have their data uploaded in the first place, should they choose to do so. We want patients to have confidence in the system and to be able to reassure them about its value, but denying patients this right will only undermine that process and is totally unacceptable. “The letter from the Department of Health to patients who have indicated they will wish to opt out seems to be at the very least unwise and ill considered.”

In a separate communication, Sir Liam Donaldson the Chief Medical Officer has sent a message to family doctors saying they should forward to the Health Secretary any communications from patients using cut-out coupons to say they do not wish to be part of the national care records database summary care record. The coupons were provided by a national newspaper.

Dr Meldrum commented: “The Chief Medical Officer’s intervention in sending a letter to GPs telling them to forward communications from patients is particularly unhelpful. GPs should not forward these letters. It is likely that some patients might think this is a breach of confidentiality in that a letter sent to their GP is being forwarded to somebody else without their consent.”

The BMA is not opposed to the scheme for a National Care Record. It believes it has the potential to improve the working practices of doctors and the care provided to patients. However the BMA is in favour of patients being asked to give individual informed consent to having their health records put on a national electronic database, rather than having their consent assumed. The BMA will be contacting the Department of Health to seek assurances on behalf of patients that their wishes will be respected.

From next spring (2007) the Summary Care Record will be introduced in trials in a number of primary care trusts.