One of the leading figures in health information has cast doubt on the government’s ability to give all patients online access to their GP record by 2015.

The policy – a high profile Conservative pledge before the general election – was made in the government’s growth review in November. However, Dame Fiona Caldicott, who has led development of NHS policy on information governance, raised concerns about whether the pledge is achievable in a speech at the Health In4matics event in Birmingham last week.

Dame Fiona is chair of the National Information Governance Board for Health and Social Care. She also chairs the government’s current review of information sharing rules.

She said the benefits of giving patients access to their records were supported by evidence, but highlighted the risks and difficulties in achieving the goal.

They include GPs’ additional workload to make records available; the handling of patients’ reaction when records are found to be inaccurate, or are otherwise concerned by their contents; and whether patients should be allowed to see their test results before their GP.

Dame Fiona said: “There are a range of discussions to be held to try to understand what different people wish to have arranged for them as discussions go on about the GP record.

“There is a political commitment to see that [access] in practice by the end of this government. I think maybe some of the challenges of that haven’t been fully recognised. It is a rather short timescale.”

She indicated a more achievable alternative could be to first introduce other online tools in primary care, for example making appointments or arranging repeat prescriptions. She said: “What patients value most are the practicalities. [There is a suggestion] that it would be best if we begin with what they are very keen to have, and then move into the more complex area of availability of the clinical information. It may be a safer way to proceed.”

Dame Fiona also said there was “a lot of concern about the extent to which clinical commissioning groups are realising they can’t just take identifiable data and use it for purposes that do not justify [its use]”.

She expressed similar comments about the responsibilities of commissioning support services.

In relation to access to GP records, HSJ understands the DH stands by its 2015 target, and will set out more detailed plans in a long-awaited information strategy, expected next week. However, officials recognise that extending other online tools before clinical records – such as online appointment booking – may help attract patients’ interest.

NIGB Roadshows will be held on the future of oversight between 27-29 June in Leeds, Birmingham and London, featuring Dame Fiona.