Health and pharmacy chiefs have defended plans to give pharmacists access to patient data after a “misleading” article in The Daily Telegraph warned ‘Tesco can see your medical records’.

The article says “high street pharmacies such as Boots, Tesco and Superdrug will be given access to NHS medical records, under a national scheme which privacy campaigners fear could expose patients to ‘hard sell’ tactics”.

But in a joint letter to the paper, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Pharmaceutical Services Negotiation Comittee and Pharmacy Voice write: “it is wholly misleading to assert that commercial companies will have access to the NHS Summary Care Record” and that “Private medical information will never be linked to patient’s store loyalty cards or any marketing promotions”.

Access to information is highly restricted and completely traceable they stress, while NHS England noted that 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”.

Health officials also rebuffed the notion that the SCR programme is a forerunner to the controversial scheme. “ is a programme aiming to join up data across hospitals and general practice and make it available to the people who can use it to make services better – clinicians, commissioners, researchers, charities, patients and public. The Summary Care Record is for the use of clinicians for providing direct patient care, and is not used for any other purpose,” NHS England said. 

Public support?

Pharmacy leaders claim that giving pharmacists’ access to the record has shown real benefit to patients and over-stretched GPs, with evidence showing that in 92% of cases the pharmacist had enough information to treat the patient without sending them elsewhere, and they also point to a YouGov poll indicating that 85% of the British public “want every healthcare professional treating them to have secure electronic access to key data from their GP record”.

But The Daily Telegraph argues that the SCR scheme has been given the go-ahead without much input from patients. The green light for a national roll out came on the back of evaluation of pilots in 140 pharmacies which they say showed “significant benefits”, but the official report, seen by publication, shows that the research garnered responses from just 15 patients, it said.

Phil Booth, from campaign group medConfidential, told the paper that the valuable data in the SCR would prove “irresistible” to the commercial firms which could exploit it.

“It is just extraordinary: to roll out a national programme on the basis of 15 responses from patients, some of whom are very likely to have been negative about it. Fifteen people out of 60 million? That’s not an evidence base for a national policy; that is an exercise in manipulation,” he reportedly said.