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NHS England denies removal of GP Connect opt-out button

NHS England denies removal of GP Connect opt-out button
By Anna Colivicchi and Beth Gault
3 July 2024

NHS England has written to ICBs and GP practices to deny any imminent changes to stop GPs switching off GP Connect functionality.

In a letter to practices and ICBs, it said IT suppliers were ‘not removing the opt-out button’.

It comes after many GPs across England turned off the GP Connect functionality on their systems, following instructions from the BMA. This functionality allows third parties to add codes to patient records.

The GP Connect Update Record API was rolled out in March to connect practices’ systems to community pharmacy and enable updates as part of the Pharmacy First scheme.

The BMA’s GP Committee said that while the functionality currently only permits Pharmacy First updates, ‘this is about its future potential’ which will be ‘the biggest workload dump imaginable’, and on Friday last week it asked practices to take action immediately to switch it off.

GPC England chair Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer said that practices needed to ‘take steps now’ as the BMA has been ‘alerted to recent communications from NHS England’ opposing this action.

A BMA update sent to GPs on Friday said: ‘Originally one of the actions within our GP practice survival toolkit, we are inviting GP partners to follow our guidance and take steps now to remove the GP Connect functionality which permits third parties to add codes to GP patient records.

‘We have been alerted to recent communications from NHSE (NHS England) to TPP and EMIS to frustrate this step, and remove GPs’ rights as the data controller to control this, by the start of July.

‘We will be writing urgently to TPP and EMIS to remind them of their legal responsibilities as data processors, but in the meantime advise practices to take action as soon as possible.’

However, in a letter published on 2 July, NHS England’s national director for primary care and community services, Dr Amanda Doyle, said: ‘It is inaccurate to suggest that there are any imminent changes being made to stop GPs switching off GP Connect functionality if they choose to.

‘In April we published an update on the Delivery plan for recovering access to primary care. This shared that over the coming months, information to update the patient record after a Pharmacy First, Blood Pressure or Contraception Service consultation would start to surface directly into practice workflows, rather than being sent to practices via NHS Mail. We have designed the system with GPs, in consultation with both the BMA and RCGP, to increase clinical safety and make practice lives easier.

‘This new update record functionality is a significant enhancement to existing processes. Instead of having to manually reconcile information from NHS Mail into the patient record, practices can see the consultation outcomes and any medications issued directly in their workflow, where they can check before accepting, using one-click. As more community pharmacy suppliers roll out this new functionality, practices will see more messages arrive in this way. Practices are already providing positive feedback on the new approach.’

She added that the functionality was not used to send any clinically urgent, safeguarding or time sensitive information and that every practice still had the choice of how to configure their IT system.

The change, she said, would also not have ‘any impact’ on GPs’ responsibilities as data controller.

She said: ‘Practices can choose to take advantage of this new enhancement or choose to manually transcribe from email messages. Neither choice has any impact on GP’s responsibilities as data controllers. There is no plan currently to extend this functionality beyond Pharmacy First, Blood Pressure or Contraception Service consultation messages. Any changes would always involve consultation with the BMA and RCGP.’

Last month, it was revealed that there is disparity between the number of Pharmacy First consultations delivered by ICSs, with some offering seven times more consultations than others.

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