GPs should turn off automatic pharmacy patient record updates, BMA recommends

The British Medical Association’s General Practitioners Committee said it was discussing with NHS England "implications" of software that allows pharmacists to directly update records.
Pharmacist working at a computer in a pharmacy surrounded by medication shelves

The British Medical Association’s (BMA) General Practitioners Committee (GPC) has recommended that GPs should temporarily turn off the ‘Update Record’ feature on GP Connect.

GP Connect is a digital system allowing authorised health and social care professionals to access their patient’s GP health record. The Update Record feature allows the record to be updated following a consultation, and it is being rolled out across community pharmacies in England for use with the Pharmacy First service, the hypertension case-finding service and the pharmacy contraception service.

On 1 July 2024, David Wrigley, deputy chair and digital lead of the GPC, said that the committee was “recommending to GPs that they turn off the ‘Update Record’ facility on GP Connect at the present time while we engage in discussions with [NHS England] to better understand the implications of this software”.

“As GPs are responsible for the information within a patients’ record — which can be now viewed by a patient — we are concerned about changes that allow others to add diagnoses, observations and medications,” he said.

“These changes could have unintended consequences and add further pressure to the GP needing to ensure follow up and ongoing care is provided to the patient due to other clinicians’ decisions and actions. This will include more requests for follow ups and support for patients for work initiated by others outside the practice team.

“As data controllers, GPs have a responsibility to have full oversight of the data of their patients. We’re not saying ‘no’ to this development, just ‘not yet’.”

In a series of posts on X, formerly Twitter, Katie Bramall-Stainer, chair of the GPC, said that the Update Record functionality was currently limited to Pharmacy First but that “this information can be securely passed to the practice via NHS Mail”.

“[The GPC] is more concerned about its potential future use whereby third parties may be able to enter diagnoses or medication without the prior knowledge of the patient’s GP, or sometimes even the patient,” she added.

Commenting on the GPC recommendation, Alastair Buxton, director of NHS services at Community Pharmacy England, said: “If GP practices choose to switch off GP Connect Update Record, then pharmacy IT systems will automatically revert to using the NHSmail system that has been used for many years to send post-event messages to general practices.

“The activation of Update Record has only happened in the last few weeks for Pharmacy First, the ‘Hypertension case-finding service’ and the ‘Pharmacy contraception service’, with the associated reduction in the need to use NHSmail as the route that IT systems transmit post-event messages. Its introduction was intended to reduce workload in general practices, as information on consultations provided in pharmacies doesn’t have to be manually copied into records from emailed PDF documents.

“Like community pharmacy teams, we know general practices are also feeling the strain of increasing demand with little support in return, so it does seem counterintuitive to switch off functionality designed to reduce administrative workload at practices and improve patient safety.”

James Davies, director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “The closer integration of records through GP Connect is a huge step forward for patients by providing streamlined information sharing between general practice and community pharmacy.”

“The Update Record feature ensures that messages are sent in a structured way, which enables easier transfer into the GP systems consistently, limiting the need for further administrative workarounds.

“However, GPs need to feel confident in the system and information being shared and, as with any innovation, this will take time to bed in across general practice and for confidence in the system to grow.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, July 2024, Vol 313, No 7987;313(7987)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.322488

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