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Managing the media is a key part of introducing Summary Care Records (SCRs) successfully, according to NHS Connecting for Health.

"The programme comes under intense media scrutiny," Siobhan Roberts, a communications lead for CfH, told a session at Assist's annual conference at the NEC in Birmingham on 4 June 2009. During the introduction of SCRs in early adopter areas, "a lot of the old news is regurgitated," she said, advising that such stories should be rebutted or ignored.

She illustrated the point with a slide of three news articles, labelled the good, the bad and the ugly. The last was a headline from The Register: "Summary Care Records – you might die, but they never will." She advised trusts adopting SCRs to involve their internal communications staff as early as possible, as well as local MPs and media.

SCRs have received hostile press coverage as a result of the assumed consent model chosen by the government, where patients' medical data is placed in a nationally available record unless they specifically ask for it not to be. Initially, the process for opting out was onerous and patients would not be specifically informed the transfer was taking place.

In response to this, CfH changed its process, so every patient above the age of 15 and three quarters receives a letter telling them about the transfer, is pointed to sources of further information and is given 12 weeks to refuse. If a patient does nothing, an SCR is created from the data held by the GP.

Nick Dunaway, director of ICT for South Birmingham PCT, said that an article in The Guardian on SCRs had discouraged eight of the area's 63 GP practices from involvement in the trust's adoption of the records, with a similar number of practices put off by the work involved.

South Birmingham started as an early adopter of SCRs in early 2007, and so far 45 of its practices have transferred patient data to CfH systems, "despite the poor press," Dunaway said. He added that he thought 100% of practices would eventually join.

Richard Corbridge, CfH's programme manager for implementation of SCRs, said that "the most controversial part of the SCR has been consent". But he pointed out that, as of 1 June 2009, just 0.7% of patients asked have opted out of having a record. As of that date, 288,953 SCRs had been created from patients at 46 GP practices, and 850,386 patients have been contacted about the scheme.

SmartHealthcare.com is published by Kable, a business division of Guardian News & Media Ltd. To register click here.

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