Offering patients digital access to GP health records

We can all agree that patients want easy access to their personal health information and the benefits this gives them.

1 in 4 people in England already have access to new entries in their GP record, and there are on average 5.5 million patient GP record views per month. Using the NHS App, these patients can see information as it is added, for instance consultation notes, letters, referrals and test results.

We believe all patients, wherever they live in England, should be able to benefit from this access and the message we hear from patients, and patient bodies, is that this is their personal information which they have the right to see.

However, as we currently stand, many patients are missing out on what they are entitled to, and so from 31 October it will be a contractual obligation for all GP practices to give patients access to their new health record information.

For those practices who have not yet pressed green, there is still time to prepare for this. It is, of course, up to GP practices to decide how they roll out online patient record access for all of their patients. Guidance and support is available to support preparation, as well as time-saving functionality to bulk-enable access if they choose.

Some practices and representative organisations have expressed concerns around ensuring that vulnerable and at-risk patients don’t see something that could be harmful to them. Last year, we carried out an extensive clinical safety review to make sure any risks to patients could be mitigated. We have developed strong safeguarding processes, have published this support online and we have not had reports of any adverse safeguarding issues or increases in workload.

Using the support, tools, and checklists we have developed, providing record access routinely to patients is a lot easier than some GP practices imagined. We know change is never easy, but the benefits for practices as well as patients are well documented.

Our early adopter GP practices report the number of subject access requests (SAR) has fallen, there is less time spent handling patient enquiries over the phone, and there is a reduction in administrative burdens. This feedback comes from our colleagues in GP practices, representing a cross section of location, deprivation levels and list size.  The real benefits come when patients are routinely using record access via the NHS App at times best suited to them, and when colleagues naturally signposting patients to their records to answer their questions – for instance on whether a test result is available.

Tamzen Hobgen, Practice Manager at Burgess Road Surgery in Southampton which recently switched on access for its patients, said:

“Switching on ‘online access’ at first was quite daunting but with planning and preparation was actually much smoother than originally thought. To date we’ve only had one query from a patient regarding what they’ve seen on their record. We have only had to exclude 31 patients from seeing their records- our list size is 9,710.”

The message is unequivocal: patients expect access to their health information, and they want us to get on and deliver it and it will further help free up the time of our valuable NHS staff to support patients with their care.

As the clock ticks towards 31 October, we would encourage practices to make use of all the resources available to work towards giving access to their patients so that everyone can benefit.

Dr Amanda Doyle OBE took up the post of National Director for Primary Care and Community Services on 13 June 2022. Amanda joined NHS England as North West Regional Director on 2 August 2021. Previously she was the Chief Clinical Officer for West Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Blackpool CCG and Fylde and Wyre CCG. Amanda was also the Integrated Care System Lead for Lancashire and South Cumbria, leading a large health and care transformation programme across the patch.

Amanda has been a GP for more than 20 years, practising in a large practice in a deprived area of Blackpool, which, in addition to primary medical services, provides a range of urgent care services for patients across the Fylde Coast.

Amanda was the Co-Chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners from 2013 to 2018.

She was Senior Responsible Officer for the primary care component of the Long Term Plan and was involved in the leadership of the health inequalities, prevention and personalisation elements.

She was part of the national General Medical Services (GMS) Negotiation team in 2018 which delivered the reformed GMS Contract. Amanda maintains an interest in urgent care. She was for 10 years a Medical Director of the local GP out-of-hours service.

Amanda was awarded an OBE for services to primary care and commissioning in 2014.

Dr Timothy G Ferris, MD, MPH

Dr Timothy Ferris took up the post as the National Director of Transformation on 10 May 2021.

Dr Ferris, who has served as a non-executive director of NHS Improvement for almost three years, is internationally renowned for his pioneering work on improving health and care in both hospital and community settings.

He will lead the new Transformation Directorate, bringing together the organisation’s operational improvement team and NHSX, the digital arm, to maintain the pace of innovation seen during the pandemic.

Dr Ferris joins the NHS full-time from the not-for-profit Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, where he is chief executive, and a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He founded the Center for Population Health, which champions the use of prevention and data to improve health, reduce inequalities, and save lives.