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Silly season storm over pharmacy records

11/08/15

Pharmacy access to NHS summary care records makes headlines

Twelve years after the NHS in England first published plans to make community pharmacies part of the joined up data sharing health service, the idea has prompted outrage in national newspapers.

iStock_data_breach_WarchiThe Daily Telegraph reported yesterday - some weeks after a UKA story - that: “High street pharmacies such as Boots, Tesco and Superdrug will be given access to NHS medical records under a national scheme which privacy campaigners fear could expose patients to ‘hard sell’ tactics.”

According to the newspaper, “health officials have drawn up plans to send sensitive data from GP surgeries to pharmacies across the country, starting this autumn, without considering the views of patients”.

The report revealed that pilots of summary care record access at 140 pharmacies garnered responses from only 15 patients – a sample so small that their views were discarded from the research.

According to the newspaper, the pilot schemes, which took place in Somerset, Northampton, North Derbyshire, Sheffield and West Yorkshire, between September 2014 and March of this year, involved independent pharmacists, chains and supermarket pharmacies. In total, almost 2,000 summary records were accessed, the report on the scheme says.

A “benefits audit” by health officials found 92% of pharmacists thought access to records improved their service to patients, and 96% said it helped them to meet patients’ needs. But patients’ surveys, which were supposed to be administered by pharmacists at 10 of the sites, gathered just 15 responses.

Corroding trust

Phil Booth, from campaign group medConfidential, said the valuable data would prove “irresistible” to commercial firms which could exploit it. “This approach to medical confidentiality is corroding trust in the NHS,” he said.

The newspaper concedes that pharmacists will have to ask patients’ “permission to view” each time they view a summary record. However, it cites the pilot project report as saying: “The principles around asking patients for permission to view their summary care record and its practical application for some prevalent patient groups in the pharmacy setting caused confusion and uncertainty.”

Pharmacists and NHS chiefs sought to reassure patients. In a letter to the newspaper published today, representatives of pharmacy professional bodies point out that individual pharmacists will need a PIN-protected card to view records and every access will be recorded by the NHS and traced back to the individual.

Held to account

Meanwhile, James Hawkins, director of programmes at the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre and Richard Jefferson, head of the Summary Care Record Programme at NHS England, wrote that if any professional shares confidential patient information for any purpose other than direct care “they could be deemed liable and held to account by the General Pharmaceutical Council”.

Overall, the episode illustrates the tendency of scare stories about NHS IT achieving prominence in the so-called "silly season". However, it also suggests, not for the first time, that the Summary Care Record programme needs to take patients' opinions more seriously - and be seen to be doing so. 

 

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