NHS patients to be given full access to medical records within the next three years
Patients will be given full online access to their medical records within three years, under government backed proposals.
Yesterday the NHS Future Forum, a group of senior doctors who influence health policy, called for patients to be given the right to check and even edit their NHS records online.
The Department of Health has given a strong indication that it will back the scheme.
Access: NHS patients will soon be able to check their records online within three years
It estimates there will be significant financial benefits, because patients will make fewer visits to GPs for consultations and repeat prescriptions that can be done over the web.
But critics, backed by the British Medical Association, claim the information could be vulnerable to hackers and the plan would make it harder for doctors to access information in an emergency.
Many GPs are expected to oppose giving unfettered access to records and notes that contain sensitive information about a patient’s health, including the possible existence of life-threatening conditions or mental health issues.
There will also be concerns over the implementation of the technology, following previous NHS IT blunders which has seen projects run billions of pounds over budget.
At present patients have a right to see their medical records, enshrined in the NHS Constitution. But to do so they must make an application to their GP and usually attend a meeting where a case for access has to be made.
The doctor can then decide whether limited access is appropriate. This process is repeated each time that access is sought. In addition, many health centres demand a charge for access to medical records.
Under the new system, patients would be able to gain access to their records in case of emergencies, even out of hours.
Convenient: Patients would be able to gain access to their medical records out of hours when their regular GP is not available
Online access to health records could also be used by patients who are overseas on holiday or business, providing foreign doctors with potentially life-saving information.
The NHS Future Forum is due to publish its second report in the middle of next month – including the call for better access to online health records.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘Many patients phone our helpline saying that they are having difficulty accessing their medical records from their GP, even though the NHS Constitution states that they have a legal right to do this.
‘Allowing patients to access their records online free will be welcomed by many. Patients will be able to see entries on their records as well as reorder repeat prescriptions.
‘However, patient confidentiality is paramount. Health records are among the most personal and sensitive information kept about patients and they must be protected. There must be a guarantee that all patient data will be protected and that it will not be possible to trace back information to an individual.’
She added: ‘Patients often report the exorbitant charges they face when asking for paper copies of their records. We would not want online records to create a two-tier system whereby those who are less likely to use the internet system face the brunt of the costs.’
Before the election, the Tories pledged to hand medical records over to Google and Microsoft to enable patients to access them online.
Last year, Martha Lane Fox, the founder of lastminute.com, wrote a report for the Government also calling for medical records to be put online.
Chancellor George Osborne said online records would be ready by 2015 in the Autumn statement.
Lord Howe, the Health Minister, said: ’We fully support patients having online access to their personal GP records. Our vision for a modern NHS is to give patients more information and control over their health.’