Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 13:03 UK

Upload of NHS care records suspended

by Jane Hughes
Health correspondent, BBC News

Computer keyboard
Summary Care Records are central to the NHS computer upgrade in England

The development of a medical records database for patients in England has been halted in some areas after doctors criticised the speed of the roll-out.

The British Medical Association warned the computer-based summary care records are being set up at "break-neck speed", sometimes without patients' knowledge.

In time, data for 50 million patients will be uploaded to a central system.

The Department of Health said the roll-out would be delayed until there was better awareness of the scheme.

The plans to computerise patients' records in England have raised concerns about security and patient confidentiality.

Doctors have also been unenthusiastic about the technology.

We will want to work with government in future to ensure that the many concerns of patients and doctors are listened to and addressed
Dr Grant Ingrams, BMA

More than 1.25 million patients' records have already gone onto the database and in December, ministers announced that the process was being speeded up in some areas.

Patients in those areas have been getting letters about the new database, telling them to inform their GP if they want to opt out.

But the BMA wrote to the government warning that it was happening too fast and calling for a suspension.

They said the rushed implementation meant GPs didn't have time to help patients make an informed choice about whether to opt out.

Ministers said they were surprised by the criticism when there had previously been complaints that the changes had been happening too slowly.

NHS IT upgrade

Summary care records are central to the NHS computer upgrade in England, which is the biggest healthcare IT programme in the world.

The basic patient record includes information on allergies, medication and adverse reactions.

Further details may be added over time and it will be accessible to healthcare workers anywhere in England.

Patients are told by letter before their details go on the system, giving them the chance to opt out.

The delay in the pilot areas doesn't mean the programme is being halted - records will continue to be uploaded in other places.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said a leaflet campaign was underway and that records would not be created until there was better awareness about the system.

It is thought to affect nine primary care trusts (PCTs) who had planned dates for upload of records and a further 70 who had no set date but who have started sending out letters and leaflets to patients.

Dr Grant Ingrams, chair of the BMA's IT committee, welcomed the decision.

"Summary Care Records have the potential to improve healthcare for patients if implemented correctly," he said.

"We will want to work with government in future to ensure that the many concerns of patients and doctors are listened to and addressed."

Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern said patients had not been involved since the beginning of the scheme.

"There is no attempt to give them a balanced presentation of the pros and cons of the database."

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