The national roll-out of patient summary care records will continue, health secretary Andrew Lansley has said.
However, the records will not now be expanded to include any more than information deemed essential in an emergency, unless patients explicitly choose to do so.
Speaking at the RCGP annual conference in Harrogate yesterday, Mr Lansley said details on how the summary care record would be taken forward would be included in the government’s NHS information strategy, which he said would be published “within a week or two”.
The basic records currently include information on allergies, prescribed medication and any reported adverse reactions to drugs. However, under original plans, information on inpatient and outpatient discharge summaries, and out of hours services use was to be added in future.
Mr Lansley said: “We will proceed with the summary care record, but on the basis that it will hold only the essential medical information needed in an emergency – that is medication, allergen and [drug] reactions.
“If people don’t want this information shared we will make it easy for them to opt out. If they want to add to that information which is stored on the record, they can. It will be their choice. But it must always be based on their explicit consent.”
However, he did not outline how the consent process would work in future, other than to criticise the current patient “opt out” letter for being “so long and poorly written” that most people ignored it.
Mr Lansley told delegates the new information strategy would put “patients firmly in the driving seat” and criticised previous care record plans for putting the needs of the NHS first.
He said: “I will publish shortly an information strategy for the NHS that will show how we are going to give people far greater and clearer, and better information than they’ve had in the past – and alongside that to show how people can use that to exercise greater control of the care that is provided.”
He said the strategy would cover “everything from patients having more control of their own records” to “opportunities for patients to exercise choice beyond elective care and hospital choices”. The white paper, for example, said patients should be able to register with a GP of their choice.
He said: “I hope we arrive at the point where patients really feel that they have a presumption that they will get good quality information upfront and will be able to exercise a whole range of choices in light of that. This document is going to be the basis of how we put some of those principles in place.”
Uploading of records to the central database began in earnest at the start of this year across five regions, with around 1.5 million records now thought to have been added to the central “spine”.
The British Medical Association has criticised the roll out, which is years behind schedule, for now proceeding too quickly for patients to properly decide if they wanted to opt out or not.
The government announced last month it was official scaling back of the much maligned national IT programme in order to try and save £700m.