Select Committee on Health Written Evidence

Evidence submitted by the Department of Health (EPR 01)


  The National Programme for IT in the NHS is already providing essential services to support patient care and the smooth running of the NHS, without which it could not now properly function. Installation of a modern, high speed, secure infrastructure and national network has been completed ahead of schedule and is daily supporting millions of business transactions in the NHS. Key systems have been successfully deployed on time and are benefiting patient care. Widespread coverage of Community Patient Administration Systems has been achieved where nothing existed before. Over half of hospitals now have digital X-rays and scans. At the heart of the National Programme is the NHS Care Records Service which will in due course provide a lifelong electronic personal health record for NHS patients in England.

  The Summary Care Record will go live in early adopter sites in Spring 2007. Development of the more detailed care record continues. Safeguards for patients have been built in to protect confidential information, including controls they can choose to exercise themselves and advanced technological standards. The safeguards were designed following substantial research and consultation with patients and the public as well as the NHS and other interested parties.

  Benefits will accrue to patients and the NHS from the introduction of modern IT systems and the supporting national network, enabling clinicians to share information about patients and with patients. Medical errors and harm to patients arising from inadequate information will be reduced; inefficiency and waste will be curbed and better information will be available to improve the understanding of health outcomes and needs.

  We are developing electronic records with continuous input from patients/carers/citizens. We are taking great care to ensure that the public will be properly informed at key stages of what is happening to their personal health information and the choices they have to control access to it.

  Full transformation to a digital NHS will be achieved in the next few years.

  Patients have already begun to see the benefits provided by the NPfIT implementations:

    —  Patients are now able to choose an appointment at a time and location convenient to them.

    —  Patients benefit from a reduction in booking time which means their GP can focus on providing better care.

    —  Patients will no longer need to visit their GP to collect repeat prescriptions and can have them sent electronically to their chosen pharmacy.

    —  Doctors are able to make a quicker more efficient patient diagnosis using digital images and x-rays.

    —  Patients will no longer need to wait extended periods of time to receive their results and start treatment which is especially critical for conditions like cancer.

    —  There will be a reduction in safety incidents where the patient was allergic to the treatment given as a result of a missing or illegible referral letter.

    —  An increase in the accuracy of patient records meaning correspondence letters are sent to the right address.

    —  GPs will be able to begin diagnosis immediately as they will have the patient's historical medical record to hand.

    —  All parents of new born babies can be confident that their baby's personal information is available at the touch of a button anywhere ensuring doctors can provide the best care possible.

    —  By removing some of the unnecessary delays to patient care, the programme will offer patients a quicker discharge from hospital and better, safer overall care.


  1.  In a typical week, over six million people visit their GPs, 800,000 people are treated in hospital clinics, and thousands of operations are performed. This corresponds to around 3 million critical processes per day that need accurate patient and clinical information to be immediately available. The National Programme for IT is developing and implementing an overarching, secure information system, using multiple new and existing IT components, to enable important patient related information to be accessible where and when it is needed in the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS).

  2.  When supported fully by a single electronic records system, these 3 million critical processes will result in approximately 30 million transactions per day over a cohesive, robust and resilient infrastructure. An effective national information technology system is a central plank of NHS modernisation, essential to the Government's vision of plurality of provision within the NHS. The deployment of modern IT is essential to deliver the Government's vision of reform in the NHS and bring about greater quality, safety and efficiency of patient care; the Choice agenda, and greater empowerment of patients, can only be fully realised with the adoption of nationally integrated systems. Today the NHS could not function without the systems which have been delivered by the National Programme for Information Technology since 2004.

  3.  A key part of the system which underpins the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) is the National Network (N3) for the NHS. The Network (N3) is now integral to the daily running of the NHS, with the data equivalent of 24,000 copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica sent over the high speed, secure network every day. Over 18,500 locations are now connected, providing the infrastructure to allow clinicians to securely access information on patients, including scans and images from any location, at any time. The network is the largest Virtual Private Network (VPN) in Europe and once completely deployed will be the largest in the world.

  4.  On a typical day in March 2007, the National Programme for IT already enables:

    —  100,000 prescriptions to be transmitted electronically, reducing errors and inefficiencies. This represents around 10% of the total and is set to rise steeply in the coming months.

    —  16,000 Choose and Book electronic bookings to be made, putting patients in charge of their care. 90% of GPs have made electronic bookings and 37% of all bookings are being made electronically.

    —  1,200,000 queries to be processed on the patient demographic system, enabling letters to be posted to the correct address and patient information to be handled more efficiently.

    —  540 new users to be registered for access to the NHS Care Record Service.

    —  50,000 unique authenticated users to access the NHS Care Records Service.

    —  200 new NHS secure email users to be registered.

    —  109,000 NHSMail users, each of whom has an email address for life, to send 1 million secure emails, one third of which contain confidential patient information.

    —  10 New National Network (N3) secure broadband connections to be installed.

    —  8,800 GP practices (33,000 GPs) to use the Quality Management Analysis System to deliver better care to patients under the new GP contract.

    —  1 million records to be added to the Secondary Uses Service.

  In an organisation as large and diverse as the NHS, it is neither feasible nor affordable to undertake a wholesale replacement of existing IT systems. This puts a greater emphasis on standards, integration and compliance to enable interoperability between multiple IT systems. There have been 102 existing systems accredited for connection to NPfIT services to date, which are operating across over 10,000 locations with tens of thousands of users handling millions of transactions a week. The total cost of accreditation is estimated to be £6.3 million since 2004 of which £5.1 million has been allocated to Suppliers' resource costs. A Common Assurance Process (CAP) will be extended to cover all systems and improve their quality so that they may be connected. The first phase of CAP is already underway to support the Early Adopter sites. The National Programme is designed to promote the secure availability of information across the NHS to support patient care efficiently and safely.


  5.  "People will, increasingly, expect an integrated system that looks after patients' needs providing an efficient hassle free service. Innovations such as the Electronic Health Record will fuel such expectations; patients are likely to be less accepting of requests for repetitive information or communication weaknesses"—Wanless interim report

Preventing medical error and harm to patients

  6.  There is hard evidence of the problems of using traditional paper records. The root cause of 27% of medication errors is poor information availability. 1,200 people die each year in England and Wales as a result of medication errors—almost a third of the number killed on the roads in the same period—costing the NHS £500 million a year.

  7.  There are many examples of medical error and the harm resulting to patients where traditional record keeping is at fault. Examples include:

    —  During the calendar year 2006 almost 1,700 patient safety incidents were reported to the National Patient Safety Agency where the patient was allergic to treatment given, over 900 where the patient suffered an adverse drug reaction, and over 800 where the primary cause was put down to a missing, inadequate or illegible referral letter, with around 29,000 where this was a factor. The introduction of the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) will help reduce these errors and prevent harm to patients.

    —  Up to 5,000 patient procedures are cancelled each year due to lost X-rays and patients are often subjected to harmful repeat X-rays as a result. The introduction of Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) under the National Programme for IT in the NHS will help to substantially reduce this.

    —  Similarly, when fully implemented and integrated with the Summary Care Record, the Electronic Prescriptions Service (EPS) should enable up to 3,000 adverse drug reactions to be avoided, with a saving of some 1,000 lives and around 25,000 bed days each year.

  8.  Currently, electronic records range from a detailed general record capturing clinical detail at the primary care surgery, through specialist clinical databases for particular areas of care, to the more general patient administration record created and held at the acute and secondary care hospital. In the main, the various classes of electronic health records are maintained separately and with no electronic linkage between them. The NHS did not until recently have a single, reliable, definitive means of recording and sharing up to date patient demographic information.

  9.  Instead of having individual health records in all the different places patients receive care, NHS organisations which normally work together will in future be able to share a Detailed Care Record for each patient. Detailed Care Records will be developed over several years and patients will also have a Summary Care Record, available to those treating the patient anywhere in England. At first, the Summary Care Record will contain basic information such as allergies, adverse reactions to medications, and current prescriptions. In due course more information will be added, and discussions are ongoing about the content of these records.

  10.  The absence of up to date information about patients can have damaging consequences. "Providing clinicians with simultaneous access to accurate patient records, quality-assured knowledge and details of local care pathways is key to ensuring safe and effective healthcare in the future. With changes in patterns of work and increased patient mobility... the Electronic Health Record, has much to offer patients in a healthcare system in which they may be the only constant. (CMO July 2006 report." "Good doctors, safer patients"). Some examples are provided below (see paragraphs 8-11).

Shared care needs shared information

  11.  Modern healthcare is delivered by teams of healthcare professionals who need to share essential information to provide safe, effective care. Locally held records depend on local filing, archiving and retrieval processes, all of which are subject to human error and can prevent appropriate and timely sharing of information. Locally held records can be lost or inaccessible when they are needed, and cannot easily reflect different confidentiality ratings for different parts of the record to meet individual patient's wishes. Lost medical notes, missing information about appointments and concerns about lack of information at times of medical emergency are frequently cited as a problem (source: BMA discussion paper 2005 "Confidentiality as part of a bigger picture"). Typically patients have different medical records in existence in different institutions that are difficult to coordinate, and often are not shared. Patients are often repeatedly asked for the same information.

  12.  Shared record systems, such as those being delivered by the National Programme, provide more complete data and lead to the delivery of better patient care. Evidence from environments where they are already routinely available and used shows that the number of failed appointments falls because hospitals have accurate and up-to-date addresses for patients. The number of duplicate diagnostic procedures and tests reduces so that patients do not have to undergo repeat X-rays, reducing their risk of excess radiation. Importantly, patients benefit from knowing their records are up-to-date.

  13.  Continuing changes to the ways in which care is provided in the NHS—the restructuring of evening and weekend arrangements in primary care, and the growing contribution of the private and voluntary sector—will only underline the shortcomings of traditional approaches to records keeping and management. Staff will increasingly work as members of a multi-disciplinary team. The traditional divisions between primary and secondary care and specialty based practice are being challenged. Joint working between health and social care providers will continue. The future is likely to see professionals delivering care to specific patient groups rather than in specific health care settings. All this will have a striking impact on the premium placed on the availability of reliable information at the point of contact with the patient, irrespective of time, place, or care setting.

Reducing inefficiency and waste

  14.  The risk to life and wellbeing is compounded by inefficiency and waste resulting from the reliance on traditional record systems. Up to 10% of appointments are currently not attended, leading to re-scheduling. Similarly, traditional local records for patients are manually maintained and stored, costing the NHS £120 million per year to create, maintain and store. Fragmented and partially integrated systems are the norm—over 8,500 different systems exist, none of which is secure enough to transfer patient information.

  15.  Major examples of areas in which the introduction of modern IT systems and support can help reduce inefficiency and waste include:

    —  In 2005-06 the NHS Litigation Authority paid out some £560 million in settlement of clinical negligence claims, much of it, as in previous years, on an uncontested basis because records that might have made it possible to defend claims could not be produced locally.

    —  The introduction of Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) can help a typical hospital save tens of thousands of staff hours a year previously required to locate and move films around the site and elsewhere in the NHS, and hundreds of thousands of pounds on the cost of X-ray films and processing, and by releasing storage space for better alternative uses. There is also significant potential for much greater savings arising from service redesign, reduced waiting times, and better, faster diagnosis.

    —  The Electronic Prescriptions Service (EPS) will eliminate the need for the prescription details to be typed manually from hand-written prescriptions by the dispenser, allowing them more time with patients. It will also eliminate the 2 million per year prescriptions which are returned to pharmacies for reimbursement queries, and the need for patients to visit a GP for a repeat prescription. As 70% of all prescriptions are repeat prescriptions, this could result in a reduction of up to 1 million patient visits a year.

Empowering patients

  16.  The creation of the Care Record Service will put control of care records into people's own hands. Patients will be able to view and review their summary record via HealthSpace. It will enable patient choice of treatment or clinician and provide access to Choose and Book. It will allow patients to record their preferences for care and to identify errors in their record. It will enable them to choose how their records are shared.We continually involve patients/carers/citizens in the development of the NHS Care Record Service to ensure it meets their needs. They are involved through research and consultation. They sit on project boards and reference panels. They form advisory committees and attend workshops. They read and comment on materials we produce for the public.

Improved understanding of health outcomes and needs

  17.  Information is essential for providing care but is also important for public health, research, and to improve the quality of care processes and management. Data can be retrospectively examined to identify practice patterns, incidence of disease or complications, and the like. It can also be used to target specific practitioner behaviours where there is scope for improvement.

  18.  The NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) also provides information for these "secondary" purposes as part of a coherent strategy to improve the quality of healthcare delivered by the NHS in England. The current approach to supporting these secondary purposes is fragmented, variable and historically dependent upon access to confidential identifiable patient information, a situation which the Department of Health has been working with the Patient Information Advisory Group to improve. The NHS CRS will provide access to rich but anonymised or coded information and unprecedented tools for utilising this information to analyse outcomes, trends and performance to support improved future care.


Question 1.   What patient information will be held on the new local and national electronic record systems, including whether patients may prevent their personal data being placed on systems

Clinical Information

  19.  The recording of clinical information is a matter for professional regulation and will also depend in part on policies and protocols in local NHS organisations. Doctors are required by the General Medical Council to keep clear, accurate, legible and contemporaneous patient records which report the relevant clinical findings, the decisions made, the information given to patients, and any drugs or other treatment prescribed, and which serve to keep colleagues well informed when sharing the care of patients. Other health professionals have similar obligations.

Demographic Information

  20.  Patients' demographic details are already held in the Personal Demographics Service (PDS), a key component of the NHS Care Records Service. It is estimated that in the region of 3.5 million patients per annum change GP Practices and for an increasingly mobile population, and with an ever more diverse range of NHS healthcare providers, the PDS provides a consistent accurate source of demographic information. This includes items such as:

    —  name

    —  address

    —  date of birth

    —  NHS number

    —  current GP.

  21.  Currently, in a typical week, 6.5 million messages are processed by the demographics service which is accessed on a typical NHS day by 50,000 authenticated unique users. The total number of queries to date now exceeds 230 million. As a result of the central personal demographics database some three quarters of a million letters per year are now correctly addressed. The introduction of the Personal Demographic Service (PDS) at University Hospital Birmingham has seen a reduction from 3% of misdirected letters down to 0.44%, improving overall accuracy rates for patient correspondence to 99.56%.

  22.  Access to the Personal Demographics Service (PDS) will reduce clinical risks arising from a failure to match patients with their clinical record, and help minimise cases of correspondence and documents being misdirected. Currently, some trusts send tens of thousands of misdirected items of mail a year, and nationally the figure runs into millions of items. Early evidence from one trust has shown a six-fold reduction in misdirected mail addressed using data held in the Personal Demographics Service (PDS), with a saving in postal and staff-related costs that would translate into many millions of pounds nationally per year.

  23.  People registered with the NHS will not be able to prevent their basic demographic and contact details from being held within the NHS CRS. The NHS has maintained registers of its service users from the earliest days of its existence and for a variety of reasons to support the delivery of healthcare. Regulations require the NHS to keep a record of which GP practice each person is registered with and reasons of efficiency and probity require this to be held centrally (eg to prevent multiple GPs from being paid for the same patient and to ensure that the correct commissioning body meets the cost of care provided). A register is also needed to enable the Secretary of State to meet legal obligations to provide healthcare, free at the point of contact, for those patients who are ordinarily resident in England.

  24.  However, whilst it is not practicable to give patients choice about whether their demographic details will be held in the system, safeguards have been built into the PDS which allow an individual's contact details to be hidden from NHS staff if they request this level of protection. Access to the Personal Demographics Service (PDS) by NHS staff is restricted to those issued with a smartcard and an appropriate role.

Summary Care Record

  25.  The Summary Care Record forms the national element of the NHS Care Record Service and will provide authorised healthcare professionals with access to key clinical information about a patient anywhere at any time. Piloting of the Summary Care Record, part of the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS), in "early adopter sites" will begin from Spring 2007. The ready availability of information about patients in the Summary Care Record will help prevent medication errors which cause 1200 unnecessary deaths a year in England and Wales—almost a third of the number killed on the roads in the same period—and a human tragedy costing the NHS £500 million a year. It will also help reduce unnecessary admissions to hospital particularly of older people The Summary Care Record will be created by copying data currently held within GP systems with the agreement of the GP Practices concerned. At first, the Summary Care Record will contain only basic information such as known allergies, known adverse reactions to medications and other substances (eg, peanuts) acute prescriptions in the past six months and repeat prescriptions that are not more than six months beyond their review date.

  26.  In due course more information will be added about current health conditions and treatment. "Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) continue to represent a considerable burden on the NHS, accounting for one in 16 hospital admissions and 4% of the hospital bed capacity. Most ADRs were predictable from the known pharmacology of the drugs and many represented known interactions and are therefore likely to be preventable. Over 2% of patients admitted with an adverse drug reaction died, suggesting that adverse effects may be responsible for the death of 0.15% of all patients admitted" (Source: BMJ abstract of research at two general hospitals in Merseyside—BMJ 2004; 329:15-19). Discussions are under way with representatives of the medical professions, patients and the public about the final scope and implementation of the Summary Care Record. Experience in the early adopter sites will be thoroughly evaluated before wider roll-out of the Summary Care Record.

  27.  Individuals who have concerns can choose not to have a Summary Care Record created for them. They will be advised to inform their GP of their views and to request that a note be made of their concerns and the choice they have made. The GP practice may ask the patient to sign a form indicating that they understand and accept that it may not be possible for the NHS to provide them with the same care as others receive in circumstances where the Summary Care Record will enable improved care. They can alternatively choose to have a Summary Care created but not accessible to anyone but themselves. They will be able to access it anytime using a secure internet site called HealthSpace. Patients will of course be able to change their mind and request a Summary Care Record at any point.

Detailed Care Record

  28.  Records containing information about a patient's medical care exist currently in a variety of places, for example, at their GP surgery or at hospitals where they have received treatment but at present they cannot easily be shared. Over the next few years, as the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) develops, NHS organisations such as hospitals, clinics and GPs will be able to share their electronic records where appropriate. This may vary from area to area depending on the physical infrastructure. A patient who has attended NHS organisations in different areas may have more than one set of shared detailed records.

  29.  The detailed care record component of the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) will support the care process and will typically contain:

    —  Name, address, date of birth and NHS Number.

    —  Past and current health conditions, allergies.

    —  Assessment, investigations and diagnosis including test result and digital images.

    —  Care plans and reminders.

    —  Treatments including operations and medications.

    —  Care reviews and discharge information.

  30.  Individuals may ask those who are providing care for them whether or not it is possible to withhold information from the new IT systems but in many cases this will be impracticable. Some forms of care, X-rays, laboratory tests etc will generate records within the new systems automatically and the only way to prevent this is to choose not to have that particular care or treatment. Where clinicians feel that they can keep adequate records outside of the new systems there will need to be robust arrangements for clinical audit in order to assure the quality of care and protect patient safety. The Department of Health is to conduct a consultation on processes for managing patient requests of this sort. However, even where information has to be held within the new systems, patients have considerable control over who may access that information as described below. Alternatively, people can choose to have their information held electronically but not accessible to anyone outside the organisation that created it—thereby recreating an electronic version of the status quo.

Question 2.   Who will have access to locally and nationally held information and under what circumstances

  31.  Only the duly authorised staff of organisations that are involved in providing care will have access to confidential medical information held within the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS). Such staff will need to have a "legitimate relationship" (see paragraph 37) to access the information in an individual patient's record. Organisations that are not involved in providing or supporting the delivery of health and social care, will not have direct access to any confidential medical data. Exceptionally, disclosure outside a health context may be considered in cases of serious crime or where there are significant risks to other people, but public interest rules for disclosure to the police or other agencies are not changed by the introduction of the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS). This is exactly the same as what happens now with paper records and non-linked computer systems.

  32.  Arrangements known as "role based access controls" will limit what a member of staff can do within the system and consequently which parts of a record he or she can see and amend. Access to record content will therefore be controlled by a member of staff's professional relationship with the patient, and by what they need to see to do their jobs. Senior clinicians within an organisation will also be able to see patient records when assuring the quality of care provided by their staff, but other access will only be authorised when required or permitted by law.

Question 3.   Whether patient confidentiality can be adequately protected

  33.  The benefits of the NHS Care Records System (NHS CRS) for both patients and NHS staff depend on safeguarding sensitive patient information from inappropriate disclosure. The NHS Care Record System provides a set of technical access controls and audit facilities that, along with the professional standards of staff in the NHS, safeguard sensitive patient information from inappropriate disclosure. They provide much more rigorous controls than exist now for either paper records or existing electronically held records.

  34.  The Department of Health sets stringent standards for patient confidentiality and has taken the lead in government in developing a comprehensive privacy statement in the form of the NHS Care Record Guarantee, articulating in plain language precisely what NHS organisations must do to meet legal and policy requirements. The Department is also strongly supporting the Information Commissioner in seeking stronger penalties for breaches.

  35.  International security standards are applied across all system implementations. These include the use of encryption to communication links between systems, and to user interfaces with systems. The security of data centres is assured using both international and British standards, and all suppliers to the National Programme are contractually bound to auditing their adherence to these.

  36.  The NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) incorporates stringent security controls and safeguards to prevent unauthorised access to personal information and to detect potential abuse. These controls are complex to implement and there is a trade-off between usability and ease of access to data and questions relating to security and patient safety. The Department is therefore proceeding cautiously and consultatively and is providing the NHS with a set of security tools to deliver centrally determined standards.

  37.  The Department is aware that some patients will not be reassured by NHS security controls and is therefore providing patients with choice about participation in many of the new developments. Uniquely, the Department is also providing security controls that are set at the direction of patients. This provides unprecedented confidentiality management for patients of the NHS in England.

  38.  The Department of Health is establishing a National Information Governance Board answerable to the Secretary of State for Health, to provide a single authoritative source of monitoring, oversight and advice on the use of information in health and social care. The NIGB will review compliance with the NHS Care Record Guarantee and report annually to the Secretary of State. It will subsume the roles of a number of existing Department of Health Committees. With increased availability of patient information, it is important to safeguard access and to retain the confidence of the public. The NIGB will prevent complacency by adapting and maintaining high standards and by being ever watchful and in touch with public perception.

Security Controls Managed by the NHS

  39.  Users (healthcare professionals) are vetted and sponsored by their local organisations for specific access appropriate to their job role and area of work. There is a strong registration process compliant with the government standard eGif level 3 which means the user has to initially appear in person to prove their identity before access is assigned by the "Registration Authority" governed by NHS Connecting for Health. On successful completion of the registration process, a user is issued a smartcard—a secure token that, together with a passcode, confirms the identity of a user at the time of access. The registration process assigns them a role profile consistent with their area of work and responsibilities and establishes a unique electronic footprint when used to access systems. These records can be analysed to identify suspect behaviours. Where suspect behaviour is identified, local trusts will follow their procedures for investigating staff.

  40.  No system functionality will be available to an individual who does not possess a smartcard and know the associated pass code. The role profile that has been assigned to an individual through the registration process determines which system functions, and consequently which parts of a record, an individual who has logged on to the system can access.

  41.  A central record is also maintained within the systems of which patients each staff team—workgroup—are currently caring for. A GP Practice, an A&E Department or a clinic would be typical workgroups. This relationship, termed a "legitimate relationship" (LR) is a prerequisite of access to a specific patient's record. Without such a relationship access is prevented.

  42.  Full audit trails of who has done what, made possible by the unique identity associated with each smartcard, are maintained within systems and it is intended that these will be available to patients on request, as well as to staff charged with checking for system misuse by authorised staff. This is a considerable advance on what exists now with either paper or electronically held records.

  43.  NHS organisations must undertake to observe strict conditions to ensure the NHS CRS is used appropriately, and users are required to sign up to a set of conditions for use of the smartcard. These obligations and conditions are complemented by the various existing codes of conduct and professional responsibilities by which all NHS staff are bound. Actions which do not conform to them, which includes the sharing of smartcards, are dealt with locally. Sharing of information between members of a team has happened routinely prior to the introduction of smartcards, but we recognise that the sharing of smartcards could undermine the assurance that patient confidentiality will always be appropriately respected. Staff who breach patient confidentiality are subject to professional disciplinary measures. Offending doctors and nurses will be reported to their professional regulatory bodies and may face additional disciplinary action, including losing their licence to practice.

Options and Controls Available to Patients

  44.  Patients have a number of options. They were developed following extensive research and consultation with patients/carers/citizens and the NHS:

    (i)  Not to have a Summary Care Record (SCR) by requesting this through the GP Practice where they are registered. Individuals who opt-out of having a SCR may change their minds at any point in the future. Electronic prescriptions and electronic bookings are also optional.

    (ii)  To direct that controls are set to prevent data sharing. In this case the SCR can only be viewed with the individual's express permission or in accordance with the exceptions to English common law confidentiality obligations. Local sharing of Detailed care records across organisational boundaries will also be prevented—essentially recreating the pre-NCRS situation.

    (iii)  To have their address and contact numbers hidden so that they are not available to NHS staff. Whilst the NHS is legally required to hold non-clinical patient contact details for all patients where these can be obtained, this option has been provided so that even the most concerned individuals can still receive care and have joined-up records.

  In time, patients will also be able to have an SCR but to designate some data items as sensitive so that they cannot be viewed outside of the team that recorded the information without the individual's express permission. This type of control is referred to as a "sealed envelope".

Question 4:   How data held on the new systems can and should be used for purposes other than the delivery of care eg clinical research

  45.  The primary purpose of the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) is to support the delivery of care to patients. However, as a by-product of collecting information for operational patient care, the introduction of the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) represents a major opportunity for supporting the secondary analysis and reporting of information for a variety of purposes. The architecture of the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) provides the opportunity to rationalise data abstraction, data flows, data management, analysis and reporting. This supports management and clinical purposes other than direct patient care, such as healthcare planning, commissioning, public health, clinical audit, benchmarking, performance improvement, research and clinical governance. The system by which this is done is called the Secondary Uses Service (SUS).

  46.  Wherever possible, data will extracted automatically as a by-product of NHS services supporting direct patient care, including the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS), Choose and Book and Electronic Transmission of Prescriptions. Initial Secondary Uses Service (SUS) content will cover the NHS in England and will be patient-specific. It will build on operational information already being shared by the NHS such as commissioning of healthcare services (eg diagnosis and procedures), cancer waiting times, clinical audit and supporting demographic data. Data will in due course cover all care settings (primary, community and acute) and all NHS-commissioned activity, including services provided for the NHS by the independent sector.

  47.  The aim is for this data to be made available either in aggregate form or, where detailed information is provided, in anonymised or pseudonymised form. This process removes patient identifiable information and allocates a consistent "pseudonym" so that individual cases can still be tracked, but only with explicit approval.

  48.  Access to identifiable information is available only where patient consent has been given, or where specific permissions apply. Permission is required from an expert group called the Patient Information Advisory Group (PIAG), set up under the Health and Social Care Act (2001). This group assesses each application to test that the use of patient information is justified, taking into account issues of confidentiality and consent.

  49.  Access to the Secondary Uses Service requires each user to be formally registered and to use individual smart card access, just as for other systems in the National Programme for IT in the NHS. Each user is allocated a role which determines the functions (ie what reports they can access) and the coverage (eg the organisation or geography of data which may be accessed). Key user activities, eg, logon and performing an extract, are logged.

  50.  In January 2006, the new national health research strategy Best Research for Best Health announced that the Department of Health would ensure the capability exists within the national NHS IT system to facilitate, strictly within the bounds of patient confidentiality, the recruitment of patients to clinical trials and the gathering of data to support work on the health of the population and the effectiveness of health interventions. The UK Clinical Research Collaboration established an expert group under Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, to advise NHS Connecting for Health on maximising the use of the NHS Care Record for research. It has simulated how clinical trials and large observational studies could draw on the NHS infrastructure, and will report shortly.

  51.  The Secondary Uses Group set up by the Care Record Development Board to advise on the ethical use of patient data and how the potential for research, statistics and management can be realised without compromising confidentiality or security is due to report shortly.

Question 5.   Current progress on the development of the NHS Care Records Service and the National Data Spine and why delivery of the new systems is up to two years behind schedule

Current Progress on Development

  52.  Growth in volumes of activity on National Programme Systems is rising dramatically with the increase in functionality across the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) and continuing roll out of the various elements of the system. Already the spine is the world's biggest structured healthcare messaging system. It is significantly larger than the entire Reuters global network used to distribute financial data in real time. The processing power of the spine environments would put it in the top 100 supercomputers ever built. Over 300 terabytes of storage is held on the spine which is roughly equivalent to a 3,000km long book shelf. The national PACS programme will ensure that all acute trusts will have the technology in place by the end of 2007, with the South having already achieved this target and London on target to achieve this by the end of March 2007. By the end of 2007, every GP and community pharmacy in England will have access to the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS).

  53.  Alongside progress in delivering the technology have come measurable patient benefits:

    —  The Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) means images can be accessed remotely in any place and at any time by consultants, making care better, more attentive and diagnosis quicker than before. Patients will be assessed and treated more quickly in emergency care situations, and consultants can conduct more thorough examinations with the ability to manipulate images onscreen resulting in the best possible diagnosis. Lost or deteriorated images will no longer be an issue, saving money and time wasted due to cancelled or inadequate consultations. Space currently used for the physical storage of images will be reduced in this near-filmless process, with all the flexibility of digital systems.

    —  Virtually all GPs maintain electronic health records for their patients. GP systems are connected to a fast modern and secure national network over which are transmitted, electronic bookings and prescription scripts all using a central register of demographic data to ensure safety and available across the NHS 24/7. Comparative performance and quality measures of the services provided by GP practices are available to the public and healthcare planners.

    —  Electronic prescriptions have improved accuracy in prescribing. As well as saving lives by reducing prescribing errors, the electronic prescription service improves efficiency.

    —  Choose and Book is delivering patient choice, but also saving nursing and clinical time by reducing "Did Not Attends" by around a half, whilst most bookings are made in under a minute.

    —  Payment by Results and the Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF) has incentivised performance.

    —  The Quality Management Analysis System (QMAS), collects data on the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) component of the new General Medical Services contract for general practices. The aim is to improve care standards by assessing and benchmarking quality of care. The QOF rewards practices for the provision of quality care, and helps to fund further improvements in the delivery of clinical care. QMAS represents a valuable source of information for healthcare managers or researchers responsible for the planning and delivery of primary care services and resource allocation, either within organisations or nationally in respect of specific disease areas. This unique quality-of-service information is available to the public to look up information on how well their local surgery performs. Other searches will compare local GP practice scores against other GP practices in the local area and the national score across England. QOF data provides, for the first time, easy access to comprehensive information on the pattern of the most common chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes and cancer, from over 8,400 GP practices with just over 53 million registered patients in England. QOF helps doctors to compare the delivery and quality of care. By providing this world-leading intelligence on the spread of illnesses such as diabetes, heart conditions and cancers, GPs and other health professionals can make improvements in managing these chronic diseases.

    —  The Personal Demographics System is reducing the very significant numbers—some three-quarters of a million a year—of letters sent to the wrong address.

    —  The GP2GP records transfer system, which provides a secure way for GPs to pass the records of a patient who has changed GPs to the new GP quickly and safely. GP2GP makes a process that can take months to complete using paper records into one which is effectively instantaneous.

Delivery of the New Systems

  54.  There has been substantial progress with many systems fully deployed and daily supporting critical NHS business. The NHS could not now function normally without the Quality Management and Analysis System (QMAS), the N3 broadband network, the Personal Demographics Service, Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) or Payment by Results. Other programmes, such as Choose and Book and Electronic Prescriptions, have seen the software delivered to time and budget but take-up has been slower than expected. In both cases, roll-out has been dependent on the goodwill of existing system suppliers to achieve compliance and to undertake the work to install the upgrade.

  55.  Although much of the NHS Care Record Service was delivered on time and to budget, including the Personal Demographics System, Security and Authentication Systems and Messaging Systems, the national Summary Care Record containing the clinical record has been delayed by around two years against the original plan. This is partly due to its complexity and partly because of the need to secure consensus from the medical profession on its contents. The medical profession has been divided, with GPs typically favouring less or no clinical information to be placed in the national summary record and hospital doctors wishing there to be more information. Consensus was achieved by the Ministerial Taskforce on the Summary Care Record. The software is now on track for deployment at the end of March 2007.

  56.  Significant progress has been made at a local NHS level by the installation of community and child health systems into Trusts that have not had any previous IT support and where managers and clinicians have praised the transformation.

  57.  The deployment of new IT systems into acute hospitals with existing Patient Administration Systems, non-standard LANS, WANS and firewalls and multiple interfaces to a myriad of Departmental systems is up to two years behind the original schedule. Unlike the successful PACS deployment which has effectively been into greenfield sites, the patient and clinical systems implementations are into acute hospitals with existing legacy systems. Rather than providing a standard, repeatable deployment, the individual requirements, particularly for reporting at the local Trust, has required greater effort and has taken longer.

  58.  As at 12 March 2007, the position across major elements of the programme is as follows:

    Picture Archiving and Communications Systems

    —  two Picture Archiving and Communications Systems going live almost every week (only five per year before the programme);

    —  over 178 millions digital images now stored;

    —  5.4 million images are typically added each week;

    —  c 40,000 patient studies per day.

      Picture Archiving and Communications Systems capture, store, distribute and display static or moving digital images, including X-rays and scans. Over 178 million digital images have already been stored. Currently there are 79 live deployments and we are digitising around two hospitals each week. The Picture Archiving and Communications Systems Business Case shows £1 billion net benefit, both cash and non-cash, to the NHS over 10 years. Trusts with Picture Archiving and Communications Systems are more efficient—a typical medium hospital can save 100,000 staff hours, equivalent to 50 staff. Picture Archiving and Communications Systems enables earlier diagnosis and more prompt treatment—providing digital transfer of images as required. Before Picture Archiving and Communications Systems, 5,000 patient procedures per annum were cancelled due to lost X-ray films.

    NHS Care Record Service

    —  332,029 registered users;

    —  now contains national patient demographic information for over 50 million patients in England;

    —  patient confidentiality protected by a Care Record Guarantee and system controls; and

    —  over 1.2 million patient records are successfully retrieved from the Personal Demographics Service every day, helping to correctly identify patients.

      The NHS Care Record Service is creating an electronic record for each of England's 50 million patients, replacing four existing national systems. There are already 333,029 registered users and over 550 million activity records have been submitted to Secondary Uses Services. The NHS Care Record Service will bring process efficiencies and improvements to patient safety, care and experience, helping to reduce deaths through adverse drug reactions, of which there were 570 in 2001-02, as well as reducing the cost of litigation by reducing the number of avoidable adverse incidents. The summary clinical record is now ready for launch in April 2007.

    Choose and Book

    —  over 2.9 million Choose and Book bookings made to date;

    —  over 16,000 bookings made in a typical day;

    —  now available to 97% of GP practices; and

    —  software delivered to time and budget.

      GPs and other care staff are booking initial hospital appointments at a convenient date, time and place for patients. Currently, there are over 16,000 bookings made per day and a total in excess of 2.9 million total bookings have been made to date. 97% GP practices are able to make electronic bookings.Choose and Book has been shown to halve the number of "did not attends" by giving the patient choice and placing them in control of their booking. Choose and Book will save the NHS approximately £69 million per year or 100,000 days per year of nursing and clinical time. "Did not Attend" rates are 5% for Choose and Book compared to 9% for non-Choose and Book bookings. Most bookings are made in 44 seconds.

    Electronic Prescription Service

    —  software delivered to time and budget; and

    —  over 14 million prescription messages issued.

      The Electronic Prescription Service will allow prescriptions generated by GPs to be transferred electronically from their surgeries to their local pharmacies. Over 14 million prescriptions have been transmitted to date and over 550,000 prescriptions are issued per week. 1,669 GP practices have transmitted prescriptions. The Electronic Prescription Service more than halves keying time, by both the pharmacy and the Business Services Authority, equating to £13M savings or 700 staff equivalents. The Electronic Prescription Service will save an estimated eleven lives per week and will free up 3,920 hospital beds per week by reducing prescribing errors. The Electronic Prescription Service brings more choice in access to medication including home delivery and involves less time for GPs administering repeat prescriptions by 70%. Electronic Prescription Service data will be used to populate the patient summary care record.

    National Network for the NHS (N3)

    —  target achieved two months ahead of schedule with over 18,000 connections delivered.

      N3 is providing reliable supporting IT infrastructure, world class networking services, sufficient, secure connectivity and broadband capacity potential to meet current and future NHS IT needs. There are 18,664 secure connections of which 10,717 are GP connections. Approximately 1,000,000 NHS employees use N3 services. All GP sites and branch practices get at least 512Kbps N3 service. For every £1 spent on N3 the NHS would have spent £2.25 on the legacy NHSnet. By using N3 to monitor four ambulance trusts, Yorkshire Air Ambulance has reduced scramble time from seven to two minutes. N3 transfers 96.5 terabytes of data per month which is equal to the Encyclopaedia Britannica every four seconds. There are connections to all sites where healthcare is offered.


    —  over 236,000 registered users; and

    —  around one million emails a day, one-third of which are clinical information.

      NHSmail is a centrally managed, secure, clinical email and directory service provided free of charge to the NHS organisation in England. Currently there are 236,652 registered users. Over 205 million emails have been transmitted to date, 30% for secure transfer of patient identifiable data. University City Hospital Leicester estimates £1 million saving over four years equivalent to an extra ten nurses per year. All users have one email account, contact details and diary that can be shared across multiple organisations. NHSmail will save £185 million over the life of the contract. NHSMail is a secure service with the highest level of encryption available.

    The Quality Management and Analysis System (QMAS)

      QMAS is a new single, national IT system, which gives GP practices and PCTs objective evidence and feedback on the quality of care delivered to patients. As general practices are now rewarded financially according to the quality of care they provide, it is essential that the payment rules that underpin the GMS Contract are implemented consistently across all systems and all practices in England. QMAS ensures that this is achieved. The system shows how well each practice is doing, measured against defined national achievement targets.

Overall Position

  59.  The technology to support most aspects of the National Programme for Information Technology has already been delivered and the remaining challenge is to utilise these systems fully at local level.


  60.  Having access to comprehensive and secure electronic health records has been shown to improve quality of care and patient safety and facilitate appropriate treatment of patients in providing health professionals with a better knowledge of the patient's history and of previous interventions by other colleagues. A longstanding commitment by the Department of Health to give patients access to information about their health and care will become a reality. The National Programme for IT and the NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS) have the potential to transform and save lives. They will enable better informed patients to work in partnership with the NHS.

  61.  Currently, the NHS operates with disparate paper-based and fragmented national IT systems. Many of these inefficiencies are being removed and better services for patients are available as a result across the NHS. Modern IT Systems and the Services described here will support access to care when and where it is convenient, reducing the numbers of failed appointments, improving the accuracy and handling of prescriptions and facilitating the capture, storage and transmission of X-rays and digital images so they are available to clinicians when and where needed. The implementation of a secure broadband network will improve the communication and availability of information to clinicians and managers; patients too will be able to view the information held about them, putting them in control for the first time and offering meaningful choice. They will also have unprecedented control over who sees their information. Crucially, the NHS Care Record Service (NHS CRS) will provide a single integrated national system for all NHS clinical applications, with consequent improvements in efficiency and patient safety, care and experience.

  62.  The transformation from paper to digital information will take place gradually up to 2010 and beyond. The NHS will move from being an organisation with fragmented, partially integrated national systems, with physical processing and storage of records on paper which are often unavailable when required or incomplete to a position where national systems are fully integrated, record keeping is digital and patients have unprecedented access to their personal health records. There will be a move from existing paper-based systems to modern IT based flows of information at every level in a careful progression from the Summary Care Record to the full NHS Care Records Service (NHS CRS), supported by a universal, secure physical IT infrastructure. We have in the past and continue to involve patients/carers/citizens in the development of electronic records.

  63.  Information about the National programme for IT in the NHS can be found on the following web site—

Department of Health

March 2007

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Prepared 25 April 2007