Letters

The news focus and comment on the Audit Commission (pages 14-15 and 19, 3 February) throw into focus its recent publication, Setting the Record Straight - a review of progress in health records services .

As national officers of the Institute of Health Record Information and Management, we were concerned that this was published with little or no input from any professional bodies (as far as we know).

After the event, we sent our comments identifying several pieces of legislation and NHS Executive guidance, which had little mention, but in our opinion, considerable bearing on the management of health records. These include:

clinical governance;

retention policies in HSC 1999/053;

development of electronic patient records in Informat ion for Health ;

the Woolf reforms of medico-legal systems;

the Data Protection Act 1998;

The Caldicott report.

We also voiced concerns about the lack of comment on one of the key areas in the original report - the development of policies for health records departments. Another area of contention was the statement that 50 per cent of health record managers are members of IHRIM. This is untrue and reflects the very small sample used in this study.

In response, the Audit Commission accepted our comments and suggested there was a possibility of revisiting the topic. We welcome the concept of follow-up reports, and indeed the message conveyed in this one - which is one of dramatic improvement in the delivery of health records services.

But we would urge readers of the report to treat the conclusions with caution. There is no doubt that organisations taking part in the review responded in such a way as to support the conclusions. We would question the sample: it is not unlikely these organisations were proud of their achievements, and perhaps others with less satisfactory outcomes did not participate. The methodology for collection of data remotely - as far as we know, no site visits were made during the process - is a cause for concern, as is the very brief mention of key central initiatives and legislation.

If the subject were revisited we would urge the Audit Commission to consider the process carefully and perhaps use a steering group of qualified health records professionals and users to oversee and validate the process. The institute would be pleased to be involved.

Pam Jelley Chair-elect Lorraine Nicholson Chair Institute of Health Records and Information Management Boston Lincs