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The database is at the heart of the Care Records Service, which is one of four main projects in the government's £2.3bn national programme for IT in the NHS. The plan is for the database to hold summary medical records on 50 million people in England. The records would be available on the web by the patient they refer to and would be accessible by authorised health professionals.
But some doctors are concerned that the Department of Health wants to automatically transfer medical details from GP systems to a national data spine, whether or not patients agree. If patients "opt out" they will be able to stop their record being widely accessed - but some doctors do not want the data put on the spine in the first place, without the consent of patients.
At the annual meeting of local medical committees of the British Medical Association, delegates voted for a motion which said, "Given the uncertainties and lack of consultation on the Care Records Service [and] until GPs' legitimate concerns are answered, GPs should not engage with the Care Records Service."
This means that the official policy of the BMA is for GPs not to allow their patients' medical records to be transferred to the national data spine until they are satisfied their concerns have been answered. The policy encompasses all GPs in the NHS.
Responding to the motion, a spokesman for the national programme said, "We recognise that important issues have been raised. We are seeking a meeting with members of the BMA GPs' IT committee at which we can explore the issues further.
"We shall also shortly be announcing revised arrangements for clinicians and patients formally to inform the work of the national programme for IT. We know we need to build more understanding of the work we are doing."
The BMA vote raises questions about whether the Department of Health was right to sign contracts worth billions of pounds with local service providers before being certain that clinicians would support the national programme.
In the same motion, GPs' representatives said, "[We] deplore the announcement of a timetable for implementation of [the Care Records Service] before all the enormous challenges and concerns it raises have been adequately addressed."
GPs at the conference also said they have no confidence in the ability of the national programme to improve patient care because of "impossible timescales and lack of engagement with clinicians".