Pharmacy leaders in the UK have broadly welcomed a somewhat controversial move to give pharmacists access to patients' confidential medical records.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said during a parliamentary discussion last week that "one of the changes due to be introduced, which I think could make a very big difference, is, where there are proper protections in place for patients, allowing pharmacists to access GP records so that they can make sure that they give people the correct medicines and know about their allergies and things like that." 

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society said it is "delighted" that pharmacists will be given access to the patient record, which, it has long argued, is "key to reducing medicine errors, improving medicines adherence and delivering safe and more effective care to patients".

It points out that pharmacists often get requests for medication out of GP hours, and so allowing access to such information would help ensure the supply of the right medicines in these circumstances, and that the move is essential to enhancing the services patients and the public receive.

Alastair Buxton, head of NHS services at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said "community pharmacy has a great deal to offer patients through medicines management, public health and other clinical services, but the advantages of these will only be fully realised if pharmacies are fully integrated into the healthcare system and can share information about the services they are delivering securely with the other healthcare professionals involved in patient care."

Rob Darracott, chief executive of Pharmacy Voice, also reportedly said (as reported in PJ Online) that the move could provide a means of facilitating improved care. 

"Not only is this direction of travel entirely consistent with calls from pharmacy organisations for a number of years, but it is also in line with his earlier statements about a paperless NHS and calls for greater openness and transparency," he said, noting that "the last 10 years have shown us that the road to effectiveness in IT can be a difficult one, but at least the end goal is shifting in the right direction.”

Looking at the public reaction to the move, however, shows that there remains much concern over the privacy issue, throwing doubt on whether patients will be comfortable with their community pharmacists having access to the most personal of data.