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MPs warned about e-health records

Government 'pressuring' patients to not opt out

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The government has been accused of ignoring concerns about the privacy of the NHS e-care record.

Contributors to a hearing of Parliament's Health Select Committee on 26 April 2007 claimed the government is pressuring patients for their information to be included on the Care Record Service.

One claimed that the Department of Health has adopted an attitude of "suppressed hostility" towards patients who choose not to be included in the electronic care record system, NHS patient Andrew Hawker told MPs.

Andrew Hawker, an academic who has written about information systems and described himself as "an NHS patient", warned that the implementation of e-care records should be deferred until core IT systems are fully installed and it has been "thoroughly tested for privacy".

"I feel like a passenger on board a plane," Hawker said. "The plane has not had many test flights, and some of those have crashed. Meanwhile flight attendants are handing out brochures saying how safe it all is."

Further warnings were made by Paul Cundy, chair of the General Practitioners' Joint IT Committee. Cundy said that the summary care record, even in early adopter sites, shows signs of becoming far more than just a "summary" care record.

He said: "This scope creep will create great concern amongst GPs, whose records necessarily contain large amounts of contextually sensitive information."

However, Richard Granger, the director general of IT for the NHS, said he was "alive to the challenges" presented by accessibility and security of e-care records. Only 0.2 per cent of the public who have received literature about e-records, have expressed concerns about the new system, Granger said.

He told the committee that 100 per cent security could not be guaranteed, but since the system was implemented in early adopter sites, there had been only been a couple of incidents of breaches of security.

"One of my great sadnesses about the last three to four years, is that we are unable to record privacy breaches of paper," he said.

Granger also drew attention to the inefficiencies and dangers of using traditional paper records. Official statistics show that the root cause of 27 per cent of medication errors is poor information availability. But the NHS National Programme for IT is replacing paper records with a more reliable means of recording and sharing patient information.

Responding to MPs' concerns about the timeliness of the national programme, Granger that it would be inaccurate to state that the whole programme is late. "Some of it is late, some of it is on time and some of it is early," he told the MPs.

Successes include the delivery of the NHS national network, N3, which was achieved two months ahead of schedule. It now has more than 18,000 connections. Software for the electronic prescription service was delivered to time and budget.

The NHS's centrally managed email systems now has more than 236,000 registered users. In a typical day, GPs across England are using Choose and Book to make more than 16,000 bookings.

"Most of what we set out to do in 2002 will be completed in 2010," Granger said. Already the programme has moved the NHS away from the "lamentable" situation in 2002 of paying £1bn a year for computer systems which were little more than "glorified electronic filing cabinets".

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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