You may have seen an article in the Telegraph, Boots, Tesco and Superdrug to get access to NHS medical records. I’d like to put some of the inaccuracies right and reassure you of the facts that are behind this story, with links to responses from relevant organisations followed by a brief discussion.
The facts about pharmacy access to medical records
To listen to the facts instead, see the link to pharmacist Cathryn Brown’s radio interview under Other responses
These corporate organisations such as Tesco, will not have access to your medical records and they are neither being sold, nor given, to these companies in bulk. The supermarket or pharmacy chain itself will not be able to access your records at all, for marketing or any other purpose.
Only the pharmacist and pharmacy technicians dispensing your prescription may have access, via a pin-protected access card, which is similar to your bank card. You will be in control of whether the pharmacy professionals can access your record because your explicit consent will be required at each occasion, to comply with the Data Protection Act.
If you give consent, your Summary Care Record (SCR) will be available to view. This only contains the medication you take, any allergies and any adverse reactions to medicines you have had in the past. It doesn’t contain conversations you’ve had with your GP or your diagnoses. You are able to opt out completely of having a SCR, though this information may be helpful when you use other services, such as Out Of Hours and A&E services. To opt out, or to opt back in, contact your GP surgery. The SCR is completely unrelated to care.data.
Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are held to account by our regulator, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), and we are bound by our Code of Conduct, Ethics & Performance. The code includes patient confidentiality and putting patient safety and the interests of the patient above all else. Sharing your information with anyone not directly involved in your care is against the law and the pharmacy professional would be struck off the GPhC register and unable to practise in future.
The report from the pilot project referred to in the Telegraph article is available in the public domain on the Health and Social Care Information Centre website here. The SCR access for pharmacists has been approved by several health and patient charities, including Patients Association, Parkinsons UK, Age UK, National Voices, Diabetes UK and Asthma UK and their views can be read on this RPS web page.
There have also been responses to the Telegraph by the following:
- Health and Social Care Information Centre
- Royal Pharmaceutical Society (pharmacy’s professional body) letter to the Telegraph, in conjunction with Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee and Pharmacy Voice
- Cathryn Brown, a locum community pharmacist, explains pharmacy access to SCRs on BBC Lancashire. Available until Wed 9th September (now expired)
As people with M.E., we are well aware of the way the media can twist information and get the wrong end of the stick, especially if there is the potential for the story to be controversial or sensational. This is what sells newspapers but in my view it is irresponsible to distort the facts and cause alarm within the general public and I think this news story is guilty of that.
I am currently writing a blog series with information about pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, training required, responsibilities and services that we provide, which will be used by Action for M.E., the charity I work with as a Volunteer Pharmacist. This is in addition to the resource on M.E. for pharmacy teams that we’re creating. In the meantime, click on these links to go to the relevant information about what pharmacy professionals do on the GPhC website and the RPS website, or read about M.E. on the Action for M.E. website.
Clinical checking is part of the community pharmacist’s job, and this is to make sure your medicine is safe for you to use with your conditions (in case of contraindications) and other medication (in case of interactions), so having access to your SCR, if you consent at the time, will improve patient safety and the information you can be given about your medication. Community pharmacists have to do this clinical check already but only based on what medication you have had previously at that particular pharmacy, not your medical records, and so are doing this without the full information available to them.
Being able to be open about your medication history, including previous bad reactions to medicines, via your SCR allows your pharmacy professionals to give the best care and advice. This is especially the case out of hours, when the prescriber cannot be contacted to check an issue with your prescription or if you are at a different pharmacy from usual. There are many other reasons it will be helpful to have access to your SCR, as detailed on this page by RPS and by the health and patient charities consulted. There is also a good video of the advantages of the SCR for patients here on YouTube..
As always, comments are welcome in the section below, with some ground rules for safe discussions.
If you like this article, please consider donating to the charity I work with as Volunteer Pharmacist. Text EBME99 £3/£5/£10 to 70070 or visit my JustGiving page.
6 thoughts on “Pharmacy access to medical records – the facts behind the Telegraph article”
The pharmacies could do themselves some favours in the regards to access and spreading a right knowledge of how it works. I regularly use the same pharmacy and am very happy with service the provide me with.
However, this week I had a form a thrust at me, and was asked to sign it. I asked what it was, and was told it was just to do with my records, and told to sign it. At which point I asked again what it actually allowed them to do, and was simply told I’d signed one before, which I hadn’t! If informed consent was happening, perhaps they would be less scare mongering too.
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I’m sorry you’ve had that experience Clare, it’s not really how it should be, as I’ve outlined in my article. You were, of course, right to ask what you were signing for and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t explained properly. Consent isn’t really consent if it isn’t informed consent. I hope this isn’t happening elsewhere. Thanks for your comment regarding this, Clare
Do you think in hindsight it would have been bette r to have communicated this in advance to patients? When people sign up to have an SCR it is with the understanding of who will potentially use it. That changed. Should we not be told of these changes? What about other potential changes in future? Or is any scope change acceptable without public consultation?
Hi Jen, I see what you mean, it perhaps should have been part of the original information when consenting to (or rather not opting out of) having a SCR. As patients we are able to refuse consent if we don’t want the pharmacist to gain access and you should be asked for your consent each time a pharmacist would like to gain access for something in relation to your pharmaceutical care, if that helps to reassure you about it. Thanks for your comment Jen, it’s a very valid point.
Having been part of the pilot project in Sheffield, I cannot underemphasise how much this will improve patient safety! I had a patient prescribed two antibiotics on a Friday afternoon call me, not knowing which to take. Checking their SCR showed she was penicillin allergic, but hadn’t understood not to take the Amoxicillin she had been prescribed, and just to take the Doxycycline. I was able to spot this potentially serious error and advise accordingly. Not something I’d have been able to do without SCR access!
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Yes, that’s a brilliant real life example of pharmacy SCR access potentially saving someone’s life! Thanks very much for posting about it Stewart.