Headlines: May 25th, 2005

Patients have been given new assurances that they will retain control over access to their health records when new databases are launched next year. The newly-published Care Record Guarantee sets out rules governing information held by the NHS Care Records Service, the health record system, which will start to be rolled out across England.It makes 12 commitments to patients about their medical records, including a pledge that access by NHS staff will be strictly limited to those who need it to provide effective treatment. It promises, too, that in due course, patients will be able to block parts of the information to stop them being shared except in an emergency.

Individual patients will even be able to stop their information being seen by anyone outside the organisation which created it, although they are being warned that doing so might have an impact on the quality of the care they receive.

The Guarantee has been drawn up by the Care Record Development Board, which is made up of patients, members of the public, social workers and researchers as well as healthcare professionals. The Guarantee covers patients’ access to their own records, controls on access by other people and this will be monitored and policed. It also sets out options that they will be given to limit further access as well as access in an emergency and what happens when someone cannot make decisions for themselves.

Health Minister Lord Warner said the new electronic record system had enormous potential benefits for patients and in time it would allow NHS staff, wherever they were in England, to have instant, accurate access to a patient’s essential health history, including details of allergies, current medication, pre-existing conditions and recent treatment.

“We recognise that some people may have particular concerns about how their personal health information will be kept confidential in the new system. We understand that, which is why we are setting out clearly what they can expect from the NHS and their rights to control who has access to their personal information,” he added.

The idea of the Guarantee arose from research among patients and the public in 2002 by the NHS Information Authority and the Consumers’ Association. This showed people had a high level of trust in the NHS but were concerned about who might use the information in patients’ health records. When people were asked what would provide reassurance on this, the most commonly mentioned safeguard was a published sharing agreement.