Erasing David

Medical Database ‘Contains Errors’

New patient medical records database ‘contains life-threatening errors’
David Rose, Health Correspondent

The new system of electronic patient records being introduced across England is unreliable and contains inaccuracies that could put lives at risk. A draft report on the Government’s plan to create health records for 50 million people reveals that the national database contains serious errors and omissions.

So far, about 12 million patients in England have been sent leaflets about the new Summary Care Record, and about 1.2 million electronic records have been uploaded. But researchers reviewing the project for the Department of Health are understood to have found examples where the database failed to indicate allergies or adverse reactions to drugs, and listed medication that the patient wasn’t taking. It also indicated false allergies or adverse reactions to drugs, Computer Weekly reports today. Such errors could lead to patients being given inappropriate medication or suffering severe reactions, which in the worse cases can be fatal.

Under the scheme, GPs allow confidential data on their patients to be uploaded to a database run by BT under a £620 million contract to design, deliver and manage the NHS data.

Patients must give implicit consent to have a Summary Care Record created and can opt out of doing so, but critics say that they are not being given enough details to make an informed choice.

By the end of February, about a third of the 152 primary care trusts in England had begun mailing leaflets to nearly 9 million patients, but only about 15,000 people had opted out of having their health data uploaded to the new system.

The draft review of the Summary Care Records system, by University College London, found no evidence that incomplete or inaccurate data on the SCR database had led to patients coming to harm. But it suggests this is precisely because doctors did not trust the new system, and took extra time to double-check details of medications and allergies.

The project is a key part of the National Programme for IT — the £12.4 billion overhaul of NHS computer systems — but is running four years late, according to auditors.

The Government requires that GP practices meet minimum standards of data quality before they can upload records to the NHS data “spine”.

Officials at the Department of Health are concerned that if they set the standards of data quality that are too high, only small numbers of GP practices will upload their data, limiting the potential of a national scheme.

Other problems include a low take-up of the scheme by hospital clinicians, and significant bugs or delays in implementing local systems. Up to a third of local GPs in some areas are also understood to be using computers that are never likely to be compatible with the national system.

Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, said: “These are clearly serious concerns, and suspending the roll-out of the programme would allow time for them to be addressed. The NHS IT programme is unlikely to succeed without the confidence of the public or NHS staff.”

The Department of Health declined to comment on the report ahead of its official publication next month, but said that errors resulted from problems with GPs’ original records, rather than the system itself.

Copyright 2010 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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