BBC R4's "Today" and our article on the NPfIT summary care record

An article in Computer Weekly, which disclosed that NHS staff can, without the need for professional qualifications, access the national summary care records database, was discussed by GP Paul Cundy on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning [3 March 2008]

Paul Cundy is co-chair of the British Medical Association’s GP IT committee. He was asked by Today’s presenter Sarah Montague about our article, and whether patients should “opt out” of having their patient records uploaded to the summary care record.

This is what was said:

Sarah Montague: “The new National database of patient records can be seen by NHS staff who need no professional qualifications. That’s despite official assurances that records will only be seen by those specialists providing care or treatment, The discovery was made by the magazine Computer Weekly. It has infuriated the British Medical Association. Paul Cundy is Co-chair of its GP’s IT committee. What is wrong with these [records] being seen more widely?

Paul Cundy: “What’s wrong is that it breaches all common concepts of privacy and confidentiality. More specifically, when these systems were first proposed to the BMA we sought reassurances, and we were told there would be a system called role-based access control; in other words your ability to see various parts of the record would be defined by your role within the NHS, such that receptionists or telephonists would be able to see names and addresses and telephone numbers but not clinical records.

“A GP would be able to see the entirety of your record and some specialist practitioners would be able to see various elements.”

Sarah Montague: It is just being piloted in certain areas. What has been the practice?

Paul Cundy: “The practice, it transpires, is that healthcare assistants who are nothing other than trained receptionists or telephonists actually are being given access to the clinical records. So it drives a coach and horses through assurances we were given about role-based access control. Healthcare assistants are people – I am sure perfectly competent – who don’t have any clinical qualifications, who are not regulated, and are not members of any professional body. [They] are trained to do specific tasks like take samples or take blood pressures.

Sarah Montague: This only came out because the magazine Computer Weekly filed a Freedom of Information request and got the information. Can you advise us – because we can opt out of it – should we be opting out of this system?

Paul Cundy: I wouldn’t want to issue a blanket opt-out advice from the BMA. That’s not my role.

Sarah Montague: Have you opted out?

Paul Cundy: I have opted out. We would like to see these records implemented correctly with appropriate safeguards.

Sarah Montague: Have most GPs you know opted out?

Paul Cundy: I don’t know what most GPs have done.

Sarah Montague: But the conversations you’ve had with your colleagues?

Paul Cundy: I have not had conversations with my fellow professionals about whether or not they have personally opted out.

Sarah Montague: Paul Cundy – Thank you very much.


Last Friday, when our article was published online and was followed up by the national media, NHS Connecting for Health, which is responsible for part of the National Programme for IT, issued to the media a statement which attacked us, and the article, and made no comment on the article’s central point: the contention over whether healthcare assistants should be allowed access to the summary care records database.

This is what NHS Connecting for Health said:

“This is yet another false claim about the National Programme for IT by Computer Weekly, It is not true that receptionists had been accessing summary care records. There was a suggestion that admin staff in the A&E department could be allowed to print care records for the doctors in A&E only, but after concerns were raised by GPs this task was given to healthcare assistants instead.

“Bolton is one of a number of areas piloting the summary care record which has enormous potential to improve patient care and save lives.”


BBC Radio 4’s broadcast of its interview with Dr Paul Cundy on the summary care records [click on 0630 – 0700 – the item was at about 6.50am]

Non-qualified NHS staff given access to new national patients database

No qualifications needed to access national patients database

GP warns on database access

An unhealthy interest in databases

More GPs to introduce summary care records

Bolton Care Records pilot

Introducing the electronic summary care record

Two-thirds of GPs in Bolton want to scrap care records database?

Denying access to medical records on the spine

Ben Bradshaw, NPfIT minister, on opting out of the care records service

NHS Connecting for Health on the summary care record

New records online

BMA and the Care Records Service