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Don't be alarmed - but 545,000 NHS patient files are going online

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NHS Oxfordshire is to put the medical records of around 545,000 people online in an effort to give healthcare professionals faster access to patients' information.

The Oxfordshire care records programme will be made up of two parts: the national summary care record (SCR) and the local Oxfordshire care summary.

The cost of the Oxford care summary for 2011-12 and 2012-13 would be around £1m, a spokeswoman for the trust, which is part of the Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire cluster, told Guardian Government Computing. The trust estimates that the SCR will cost in the region of £500,000 in total, with the expenditure shared between the primary care trust (PCT) and strategic health authority.

The SCR will hold a patient's basic medical information held on the NHS Spine, while the Oxfordshire care summary will pull in a temporary view of a patient's health information from separate health organisations across Oxfordshire so it can be accessed in one place, according to the PCT. The summary it creates will be a read-only record that can be accessed through an online portal.

"These secure electronic records will give healthcare professionals faster, easier access to reliable and accurate information about patients to help with their care, particularly in an emergency, or when seeing a doctor out-of-hours when the GP practice is closed," the trust's spokeswoman said.

"When a patient's records are not available to doctors outside normal GP surgery hours, the Oxfordshire care summary will improve patient care especially in more complex cases where the GP record may hold vital information not otherwise available, such as blood test results or drug side effects."

For the Oxfordshire care summary the trust plans to use a combination of an existing local system, named Casenotes, and a service that retrieves information called the Medical Interoperability Gateway (MIG), provided by Emis and INPS - the two main GP practice system suppliers in Oxfordshire.

A local development will be carried out to allow Casenotes to display information retrieved by the MIG from other systems. These will predominantly be GP practice systems to begin with.

Healthcare professionals with chip and pin NHS smartcards, who are directly involved in a patient's treatment, will be able to access the SCR, while access to the Oxfordshire care summary will be limited to healthcare professionals who are employees of organisations caring for NHS patients in Oxfordshire. NHS Oxfordshire said health staff will have to asked a patient's permission before their SCR can viewed.

"Control and monitoring of access to the data will be taken very seriously so we can assure patients that their information is only viewed when necessary for medical care. Unlike paper records, a detailed audit trail is generated every time a record is viewed," the trust's spokeswoman said.

At the start of April every patient registered at a GP practice in Oxfordshire aged 16 years and over will receive a letter outlining what care records are, and how the programme works. It will also give people the opportunity to opt-out. The creation of the SCRs for patients in the area is expected to start in August, with the rollout continuing until the end of April 2013. The Oxford care summary element of the programme has a launch date of early 2013.

In 2010, the government suspended the creation of the SCR in regions where it had planned for an accelerated implementation until more had been done to raise public awareness about the programme.

But in January 2011 the Department of Health (DH) confirmed that it had resumed sending "a small number" of SCR mailings to patients, and said it planned to fully resume the rollout at a later date. The DH followed this up by encouraging NHS organisations to get on with the creation of SCRs in October 2011.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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