Page last updated at 00:47 GMT, Friday, 3 February 2006

'My details just flashed up on screen'

Image of a GP
Only 85% of GPs have the choose and book system running
GPs have raised concerns about access to sensitive patient data with the introduction of a new NHS IT system.

Nottinghamshire GPs have discovered details such as hospital visits can be accessed even if a patient is not registered at the practice.

Health correspondent Jane Dreaper finds out how easy it is to look up personal details.

Choose and book has had an interesting gestation and a difficult birth, as one prominent doctor put it to me.

Having heard some of the complaints, I wanted to see for myself how the system worked.

And I'd had a tip-off that it was worth exploring concerns that some doctors had about the security and privacy aspects of what will end up being a huge IT system.

I ended up heading to a GP surgery on the outskirts of Leeds, where they've been using choose and book on a limited basis for a couple of months.

I sat down at the computer with a partner in the practice and one of the secretaries - and they gave me a demonstration.

'Quicker than expected'

The process was quicker than I'd expected - it takes me longer to log in on my BBC computer - but doctors are worried that even a few extra minutes is valuable time within the standard 10 minute slot for each patient.

I was curious to see what information we could access about me - bearing in mind that I'm registered at a practice several hundred miles away.

We typed in my surname, first name, my gender and date of birth. In a matter of seconds, my NHS number and my home address flashed up on the screen.

I was relieved to see that my phone number wasn't there
Jane Dreaper, BBC health correspondent

The secretary was surprised to find out that she could have accessed this information too.

I was relieved to see that my phone number wasn't there. Nor were any medical details - the IT project isn't yet at a stage where summaries of people's records will go on the system - and officials say that when that happens, there'll be rigorous safeguards to protect patient confidentiality.

The idea behind the whole scheme is that if I was, for example, taken to hospital unconscious and not near my home area, it would be quicker for doctors treating me to find out my medical details.

But the doctor who showed me the system was worried that people might be able to use the system inappropriately.

The officials behind the IT project say NHS staff won't be able to trawl the database - and there'll be many safeguards, especially for people who need protection, such as those at risk from violent partners.

They say they're working at the highest level to address GPs' concerns, and they'll run a substantial public information campaign later in the year. Doctors' leaders say this is long overdue.

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