Pharmacists to be given access to medical records but NHS England insists data will be safe
NHS England has announced that it plans to allow pharmacies access to individual medical records in a scheme to relieve pressure on GPs, A&E and other NHS services.
The scheme, likely to be introduced later this year, has come under fire from campaign groups who claim that allowing pharmacies, some of which are operated by major supermarkets, to delve into sensitive Summary Care Records (SCR) could allow supermarkets to use this information to boost profits.
SCR is an electronically held record containing key clinical information such as medication, known allergies, diagnoses and patient preferences. Campaign group medConfidential spokesman Phil Booth told The Telegraph that the plans are "corroding trust in the NHS" and that supermarkets would find the temptation to use the data "irresistible". He added: "These are commercial organisations, large chains, who are looking for opportunities to make money."
NHS England has strongly disputed the claims in a joint statement issued with the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), stating the information will "never be available to supermarkets for other purposes".
It says: "The Summary Care Record is used by healthcare professionals, on explicit consent of the patient, to support direct patient care.
"While a regulated healthcare professional may have secure, controlled access to the SCR in a pharmacy within a supermarket as with any other pharmacy setting, this information is not accessible by other means and will never be available to supermarkets for other purposes, such as marketing.
"The information can only be accessed through a secure, encrypted private network by authorised, regulated pharmacy professionals who have been carefully granted a pin-protected access card.
"If a pharmacy professional shared confidential patient information for any purpose other than direct care, they can be held liable in law and held to account by the General Pharmaceutical Council, which has the legal authority to apply sanctions, up to and including withdrawal of their license to practice."
The General Pharmaceutical Council’s chief executive, Duncan Rudkin, said in a statement: "As the pharmacy regulator, we can assure patients that pharmacy professionals and all community pharmacies (including those located in supermarkets) have to meet our standards when accessing patient records."
"These standards make clear the responsibilities of pharmacy professionals and pharmacy owners in relation to holding patients’ information securely and respecting their privacy. Anybody who obtains, records or holds data is also bound to comply with the Data Protection Act."
A pilot scheme, delivered by the HSCIC, was carried out in 140 pharmacies across five areas between September 2014 - March 2015, whereby pharmacists were granted access to patient SCR. HSCIC says 1,900 SCR's were accessed under the pilot, all of which were subject to strict governance and monitoring protecting patient confidentiality.
The HSCIC says in 92% of cases where SCR was accessed, the pharmacist was able to offer advice and/or medication, avoiding the need to send the patient on to other NHS services such as A&E, GP practices or Out-of-Hours services.
NHS England says the results of the pilot "demonstrated significant benefits to patients, pharmacy and general practice". The full report detailing the findings is available on the NHS England website.
Proposals relating to pharmacies offering a minor ailment scheme to reduce pressure on GPs were suggested last year following the results of a study carried out by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). The RPS claimed in October that a rollout of the scheme could save the NHS around £1 billion a year, reduce A&E visits by 650,000 and GP consultations by 18 million.
In relation to the project, NHS England says the RPS consulted with a "broad range of stakeholders" including the Patient's Association, Age UK, Diabetes UK and local patient groups within the pilot areas.
It adds: "Additionally, patients have been informed about SCR through a national Patient Information Programme and have the choice of opting out of having a SCR. Patients that have a SCR created for them will continue to be asked for their explicit consent to view their SCR by healthcare professionals, for the purpose of clinical care only."
A Tesco spokesman told The Telegraph: "Our pharmacies are regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Society and comply with the Data Protection Act. We would never use summary care records or prescription data to market to customers."
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