North East doctors shun controversial plans to share medical records

More than 60% of GPs and practice managers in the area say they will opt out of the care data programme, according to a recent survey

Dr George Rae at his Whitley Bay surgery with a patient
Dr George Rae at his Whitley Bay surgery with patient Jill Stutt

Doctors in the North East have raised serious concerns about controversial plans to share medical records.

More than 60% of GPs and practice managers in the area say they will opt out of the care data programme, according to a recent survey by the North East Regional Local Medical Committee.

Confidential patient information and data on prescriptions and referrals will be extracted from family doctors’ computer systems and uploaded onto a national database.

NHS England announced this week that it is delaying the launch of the scheme, yet 63% of North East doctors say they will not allow their own personal information to be used.

Dr Ken Megson, secretary of Gateshead and South Tyneside Local Medical Committee said: “Despite the potential advantages of the care.data programme, only 23% of local GPs and their managers are prepared to have their own personal medical records uploaded.

“Many say it is because of their mistrust in both the security and protection of their confidential data and its subsequent potential use by third parties.”

The care.data programme will see patients’ records held in a central database where they can be used by NHS officials to plan services. NHS England has said it will help to ensure the quality and safety of services is consistent across the country.

Fully anonymised data will be made available publicly outside the NHS. Doctors are unhappy at data being available to third parties, such as drug and insurance companies, who may try to target individual patients.

Data considered to be potentially identifiable will only be released to approved organisations for the specific purpose of benefiting the health and social care system.

Dr George Rae, chairman of the North East British Medical Association, has already opted out of the programme, and a further 14% of GPs in the region say they are undecided on what to do.

He said: “There must be total awareness and understanding by the public of what care.data means to them, particularly they need to be reassured their data will be coded in a way that guarantees 100% anonymity.

“There is the need for reassurance which will allay the concerns many people have of huge government mismanagement of data, which has happened in the past.”

Both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs have previously warned that patients are being kept in the dark about the plans.

Claims have been made that important information provided to patients about the system has been sent to their homes with junk mail.

Grandmother-of-three Jill Stutt, of Whitley Bay, has opted out of the system. The retired local government worker said: “I feel that you don’t know where your personal details could end up. Commercial organisations may get information about your medical status, and you don’t know if these organisations are safe.

“I think the programme is a step too far and it would make people think more about the programme if they had to opt in to it.”

NHS England said the roll out of the scheme, originally due to take place in April, will now happen later this year and the system will have safeguards in place to protect confidentiality.

Christine Keen, director of commissioning for Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear area team of NHS England, said: “Over the years, many of the most innovative uses of pseudonymous hospital data have come from outside organisations.

“In the future we want organisations including charities, universities, think tanks and data analytics companies to use pseudonymous GP data for the benefit of NHS patients.

“We think it would be wrong to exclude private companies simply on ideological grounds; instead, the test should be how the organisation wants to use the data to improve NHS care.

“The type of information shared, and how it is shared, is controlled by law and strict confidentiality rules.”

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