Headlines: January 7th, 2003

Pharmacists are being urged to play their part in the NHS Information Authority’s national consultation on patient confidentiality. The Authority says pharmacy professionals’ views are important because of their expanding role in patient care and the electronic records systems.Marlene Winfield, who is leading the consultation for the Authority, said pharmacists were now required to have access to more information about patients than they had in the past.

“We therefore want as many pharmacists as possible to let us know what they think about the proposals and the types of information they believe they will need in order to play a more active part in medication management decisions, ” she added.

The NHS Information Authority believes confidentiality and patient privacy are essential in the development of computerised health records which will allow more information about patients to be shared and so help deliver better health care. It says computerisation will make it easier to compare the quality of services, protect public health, carry out research into new treatments and manage the service more efficiently.

At the same time it recognises that the NHS needs better ways to ensure patients know when their identifiable information is being shared and ways to give patients more say over who sees it.

Marlene Winfield said, “We are taking every opportunity to consult and involve everyone who uses or is involved with the NHS because we want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to have their say.”

Proposals for new ways of handling patient information include a virtual envelope for sensitive information that can be accessed only with the patient’s permission. The proposals are based on research by the Authority and the Consumers’ Association, which showed that the public would feel at ease about the Government’s pledge to move health records to a networked computer system only if the NHS produced a clear patient agreement or charter detailing how information would be protected.