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Royal College of General Practitioners releases statement on patient access to records

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has released a statement on patients’ access to their records.

The statement notes that the RCGP has been “engaging closely with NHS England” over the plans to grant patients automatic access to their prospective records from 1 November 2022 and states, “The College has always supported the principle of expanded record access and the benefits that patient access to records offer sin terms of self-management, health outcomes and patient satisfaction.”

It also notes the risks that automation brings and emphasises how through the past year the RCGP has “consistently highlighted the importance of practice preparedness, safe redaction technology and consideration of the most vulnerable patients.”

The go-live date was delayed from December 2021 and NHS England committed to providing further information and support to practices. “However,” the statement reads, “it is clear as we enter the final days before the planned go-live date of 1 November that some of our members do not feel ready to implement automatic access safely for patients.”

Reasons include the workload and workforce crisis facing general practice at this time, which limits GP ability to engage with additional work; the fact that the technical solutions proposed by the College have not been fully delivered yet; and concerns that other parts of the healthcare system are not sufficiently informed about how this will affect their communications with general practice, and the implications of automation for GPs as data controllers.

“It is appropriate that practices that feel ready to do so proceed with expanding record access, but the College would never encourage practices to go ahead with a course of action that they feel would jeopardise patient safety,” the statement continues.

It adds that practices must consider the benefits of record access against their own level of preparedness and capacity to redact sensitive information safely, and that they must decide whether to delay access in order to prepare further. Resources are available to assist with applying opt-out codes from the RCGP GP online services toolkit.

The statement concludes that “practices should not be left to address these risks alone and before confirming go-live, NHS England must carefully consider the timescale in the light of the latest information about the situation on the ground.”

Guidance has been published on the British Medical Association (BMA) website, in which GPC England sets out its position and informs practices of its opinion. The guidance covers how and what to consider with regards to redaction, clinical safety concerns, the legal background, summary of options and information on next steps. It can be accessed here.

At a HTN Now event in the summer, we heard from Dr Osman Bhatti on what patient access means from general practice. To learn more, catch up with Osman’s session here.