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Seeing your medical records in the NHS App

On 31st October, the government told all GP practices in England to give all patients aged 16 and over full access to their ‘prospective medical records’. This means all new and future information about your healthcare.

We’ll explain what this means, the complicated background, and what you need to know.

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The government first announced this would happen on 1st November 2022. You can read our statement on that here.

Many groups objected to the short timescale and data safety and safeguarding concerns. You can read our response to the second statement here.

Then, just one day before the contractual obligation took effect, the government again delayed it. Our third statement in response to these announcements can be found here.

In March this year, the government announced that the automatic switch-on of access would definitely happen on 31st October 2023.

What it means

Anyone using the NHS App can now see any new information relating to their healthcare. This also applies to those using the NHS login system through the NHS website or any other online access system, such as SystmOnline that we use at Jesmond Health Partnership.

The name ‘prospective records’ means information added from 31st October 2023 onwards.

The big difference is that when access had to be requested, practices would have the time to make critical individual decisions about what information is safe to be shared and that sensitive or third-party party is adequately redacted.

As we said in our statements last year, we wholeheartedly support patients’ right to see their health information. But we also have a legal responsibility to act in patients’ best interests and, as the data controller, to reduce any possible risks.

We are explaining this in detail so all patients can make a fair and informed decision.

What you might see

When we talk about ‘medical records’, we often talk about things like prescriptions, appointments, allergies, or possible test results.

But medical records can be a lot more detailed than that. Here are some examples:

  • Records of consultations with Doctors, Nurses, or other clinical staff, including any free text notes added.
  • Your coded record – markers identifying you as having a health condition or other criteria, plus any free text.
  • Test results, potentially including diagnoses, if you have been referred to a specialist.
  • All documents related to your health, such as letters to and from third parties like counselling services or insurance providers.

Again, we support patients’ right to see this information. However, there are potential risks in seeing this information without context or explanation.

Let’s look at some examples that could be difficult or upsetting for patients:

  • A letter from a specialist to a GP confirming a diagnosis. The letter is written factually and to the point, with the intention of the Doctor delivering the news in person where they can provide support and empathy. Without that context, the letter could be very upsetting or scary.
  • A coded record, shorthand, abbreviation or jargon in free text. Without any explanation, this could lead to confusion or distress.
  • A letter from a counselling or mental health service to a GP that describes a traumatic event in a patient’s past. It may be distressing for a patient to see the details repeated.

Minimising Risk

We have taken steps to avoid making inappropriate information available when the automatic switch on happened, including redacting third-party data where necessary.

However, there are other risks that we cannot mitigate without help from patients.

As we noted last year, there are concerns around the safeguarding of vulnerable adults and children and the risk of harm if patient information is revealed to a third party under coercion or threat.

Deleting the NHS App will not prevent this data from being visible if another person has your login details.

If this is a concern for you, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Your Options

If you don’t want prospective access to your health records, please contact us to request it be shut off.

Patients also have the option to choose whom the NHS uses their information in planning and research. You can read more about that data-sharing choice and set your preference on the NHS website or the NHS app.

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