Patient records now open to state

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FOR the first time, the Department for Work and Pensions will have access to patients personal GP records, including their ‘fit notes’ in a drive to get sick people back to work.

GP surgeries will have to provide the number of patients recorded as ‘unfit’ or ‘maybe fit’ for work at their practice. As part of the programme beginning next month, GPs will have to inform patients of this decision.

However, GPs will be able to withhold handing information over to the state if their patient explicitly objects. The move described by GP leaders as ‘state snooping’ enables the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to gather information which they can then use in their ‘Fit for Work scheme’.

GP leaders stress that the scheme is ‘an invasion of privacy’. Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard said: ‘I think that is state snooping. Although I am sure some civil servant thought it was a terrific idea somewhere, I am not entirely sure I agree. I don’t know if patients understand that when I write a fit note, some bureaucrat is going to be able to have a look at it.’

GP and data sharing campaigner Dr Neil Bhatia said the DWP could use the data harvested to ‘name and shame’. ‘Fit notes’ form part of the Fit for Work scheme, under which GPs in England can refer patients that are likely to be off sick for four weeks or more to a free occupational health advice service.

This service is meant to ‘help them get back into work as quickly as possible’. This data, which will be published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre from the Spring, will include the duration of the fit note, patient gender, type of health condition and their location.