Electronic patient records – are we getting the whole story?

Letter written to the Hebden Bridge times today, following an article they published, which looks like it was heavily based on a government press release.

In response to the article “New records will help patient care” published on 25 February, I am writing to express serious concerns that myself and others have about the new system of storing medical details on a central government computer system.

Currently medical records are stored by each GP practice and can only be accessed by staff belonging to that practice. The new system changes this so that certain information is held on a central system and can be accessed from anywhere. The placing of information onto this new system is being done with “implied consent” which means if people do nothing your information will go on. However, it is possible to opt out.

The system will initially be storing details of allergies and prescriptions. However, in the future other information may be added such as blood test results, or letters from specialists.

A British Medical Association press release dated 1 March 2010, entitled “Patients are not being adequately informed about electronic patient records”, protests that the new system is being rolled out too quickly without sufficient consultation with patients.

The government has an extremely poor record on storing data and has lost discs and memory sticks containing confidential data on a regular basis. Will the system even be secure? The equivalent system in Scotland has already been broken into, and the medical records of Gordon Brown (amongst others) were hacked.

Of course, certain people will want to have their records on the system. For example, anyone with an ongoing medical condition or serious allergies should speak to their GP before considering opting out.

However, if you opt out now, you can opt in again at a later date. It is much harder to get off the computer system once you’re on it.

This new system moves control of my information from medical professionals to the state. It will be open to hundreds of thousands of people, not just doctors. I will be opting out of the system to protect my data, and I would urge people to make sure they have a full picture of what will happen before making their own decision. Opt out forms are available from www.nhscarerecords.nhs.uk.