Row erupts over data sharing function in UK doctor software

Union advises members to turn off features government introduced to allow third parties to update records

The UK's doctors' union has advised members running GP surgeries to turn off certain functionality in their IT system to prevent outside organizations adding to their workloads.

The row has broken out between the prestigious British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS England over data sharing capabilities in two common systems, TPP and EMIS.

In a YouTube video, Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, chair of the BMA's GP Committee, said GP Connect – a feature that allows data to be shared between general practices and other healthcare organizations – had introduced a new function called Update Record. At the moment, it is only being used to allow pharmacists to add data to GP records in a limited way.

However, concerns had been raised when the GP system providers had "tipped off" the BMA that doctors' ability to turn off the Update Record function was set to be removed.

"EMIS and TPP tipped us off that NHS England have asked for that 'off switch' to be removed," she said.

Because GPs are legally controllers of patient data under the UK's data protection law, they need to be able to prevent third parties updating records when necessary.

The BMA was also concerned that diagnoses and treatments stemming from external health providers could end up increasing GP workloads without their ability to manage it.

Potentially, she said, it was a "nightmare waiting lists situation suddenly becoming the responsibility of GPs."

Furthermore, The Register understands that doctors are angered by the way NHS England appears to have circumvented the established way of introducing changes in GP systems. Subcommittees within the BMA and the Royal College of GPs work together, ensuring they are consulted about decisions affecting their systems.

In a prepared statement, Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair and digital lead of BMA's England GP Committee, said: "We are recommending to GPs that they turn off the Update Record facility on GP Connect at the present time while we engage in discussions with NHS England to better understand the implications of this software.

"We are concerned about changes that allow others to add diagnoses, observations, and medications. These changes could have unintended consequences and add further pressure to the GP needing to ensure follow-up and ongoing care is provided to the patient due to other clinicians' decisions and actions. This will include more requests for follow-ups and support for patients for work initiated by others outside the practice team."

Wrigley said GPs have a responsibility to have full oversight of their patients' data. "We're not saying no to this development, just not yet," he added.

However, Amanda Doyle, NHS England's national director for primary care, denied the claims, saying it was "completely inaccurate to suggest that there are any imminent changes being made to stop GPs switching off the GP Connect functionality if they choose to."

"The NHS introduced this functionality to make GPs' working lives easier and improve patient outcomes – so it is odd that any GP would choose to turn this service off and revert to manually inputting data from emails, increasing their workload and taking up more time," she said.

"There is no plan currently to extend this use beyond Pharmacy First and any changes would always involve consultation with the [BMA's GP Committee] and RCGP." ®

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