The British Medical Association has warned that the national roll out of summary care records is happening too quickly and that patients are not getting enough information on the scheme.

A core aspect of the government’s multi-billion national programme for IT, Summary Care Records are essentially summaries of patient health data stored centrally to allow doctors fast access to key information when needed, which can be critical in times of emergency or unscheduled care.

The SCR will initially just hold a list of medicines the patient is taking and any allergies showing on the GP record, but it is envisaged that these records will eventually contain much more information regarding the patient’s health, even including their wishes for end of life care.

Following “limited local piloting”, preparations are now being made to upload SCRs to a central database across England, and five Strategic Health Authorities have recently revealed that plans to add SCRs from their regions are being accelerated, sparking concern that the ball may be rolling a little too quickly.

Grant Ingrams, Chair of the GP IT Committee, believes the roll-out is “now happening too hastily”. While conceding that SCRs have the potential to improve the quality and safety of patient care, he says the BMA is “concerned at the speed because it means patients are very unlikely to be aware of what they are automatically being enrolled into”.

In England the National Health Service is operating a ‘consent to view’ model for SCRs, which means a record for the patient will automatically be generated unless they choose to opt out of the scheme. But the BMA believes that patients should, on each occasion, be “asked explicitly” for permission before their SCR is viewed, particularly as patients seem to be in the dark over the scheme and its implications.

The BMA points out that a recent independent evaluation of data from the pilots found that 70% of patients were unaware of SCRs, and so did not know that their health details would be stored on a national database, which suggests that patients were not able to make an informed decision on whether they want to be included in the scheme or not.

According to John May, from the BMA’s Patient Liaison Group, opting-out of SCRs certainly needs to be made easier. “At the moment there’s no opt-out form in the patient information packs being sent to patients across the country. They either have to take the time out of their day to go and see their GP, or phone a call centre, or download a form from the Internet and post it in,” he noted.

Ingrams stressed that the national launch of SCRs should not be done in a hurry, and that the scheme should be “rolled out carefully area by area in a properly supported and evaluated fashion” instead, to ensure the benefits are secured without breaching patient confidentiality and choice.

1 million mark for GP2GP
Meanwhile, NHS group Connecting for Health has announced that one million electronic health records have now been transferred using the GP2GP service, another part of the National Programme for IT.

GP2GP enables the secure transfer of patients' electronic health records from one GP practice to another by the mere touch of a button, resulting in increased patient safety and continuity of care.

Over 5,000 GP practices across the country can now use the GP2GP service, but this number is set to grow as more surgeries sign up and a greater number of systems become available later in the year, the group said.