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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 16:24 GMT
Home access to NHS records plan
People will be able to access their own health records from home
Patients are set to be able to look at their medical records on their home computer, it has been announced.

The plan was set out by Connecting For Health, which is overseeing the introduction of the new NHS IT system - The Spine - which will cover England.

The organisation also revealed 14,500 patients in Bolton will be the first to have computerised NHS records set up.

People will receive letters telling them data including medications will be uploaded unless they object.

The electronic summary care records have the potential to improve patient safety and the quality of care but patients will need to be made aware of their rights
Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association

They will have eight weeks to view their records and raise any concerns they have.

Details can be held back, or they can choose to have their entire record remain private.

Patients will also be able to reverse restrictions on what details are accessible on their records if, for instance, they are in a situation where NHS staff need to see all their details.

Staff will have smartcards and passwords, designed to restrict access to full data to those clinicians who need it, while administrative staff would only be able to see basic patient information.

'Highly secure'

Dr Liaqat Natha of the Kearsley Medical Centre in Bolton, one of the two practices which will test the system, said: "There are huge potential benefits from making patient records available to all staff caring for them, through the secure NHS network."

This is the initial stage of a national project to put everyone's medical records on a computer database so any NHS GP or hospital treating them would be able to look at them.

Once the basic data is uploaded and successfully used, patients will be consulted again to see if they want all their details to be added.

The home access via the website Health Space, which will be phased in from later this summer, will give people passwords to look at their personal records from home.

Connecting for Health say the site will be highly secure, and will have far more protection than websites such as those which offer online banking.

Marlene Winfield, the National Patient Lead for the organisation, said: "We would be very foolish if we didn't use the strongest available safety measures."

She added: "For patients, this will be a huge leap forward.

"They will be able to see data such as test results and discharge notes and to add information such as whether or not they need wheelchair access for appointments."

The project in Bolton is the first step towards a national roll-out.

It is expected another six areas will be taking part in the scheme by the end of the year.

Birmingham University has been asked to carry out an independent evaluation of their success.

Monitoring needed

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the British Medical Association's IT committee, said: "The pilots will have to be carefully managed and evaluated if we are to maintain the confidence of the public and healthcare workers.

"The lessons from this independent evaluation must be learnt before a more widespread roll out."

He added: "The electronic summary care records have the potential to improve patient safety and the quality of care but patients will need to be made aware of their rights.

"We would want to ensure that all patients receive balanced information that clearly explains their options.

"The impact on GP surgeries will also need to be closely examined as we do not want GPs to be overwhelmed with enquiries about electronic records leading to increased waiting times for patients."

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