Undercliffe practice in Batley, West Yorkshire has become the first in England to go live with a primary care computer system connected to the NHS data spine.

The connection to the data spine – the new national database of key information about patients – will enable summary electronic patient records to be held for the first time on a national database, allowing them to be more easily accessed, updated and shared by different health professionals. More detailed electronic patient records will continue to be held and made available locally.

So far the only patient details held on the spine are the patient’s name, date of birth and address details. Further patient details will be added over time.  The spine-enabled primary care system, however, provides the first primary care implementation for key elements of spine services such as user authentication and access control.

The go-live marks a key milestone for the NHS IT modernisation programme, and a significant step on the road to the development of the national NHS Care Records Service (CRS) which by 2010 is due to provide every patient with an electronic record held on a national database.

iSOFT primary care software, a system previously known as Torex Synergy, os connected to the NHS spine, been implemented as part of the NHS National Programme for IT by Accenture, the Local Service Provider (LSP) for the North East of England – the region Batley falls within.

An Accenture spokesperson confirmed to EHI that the LSP would be offering a choice between both iSOFT and The Phoenix Partnership in spine-connected primary care systems. The spokesperson added that the system that has gone live at Undercliffe practice would be expanded and updated over time.

“This is the beginning of the roll-out programme,” said the spokesperson, who said further implementations would soon follow and be “multiple and weekly".

Dr Paul Glover from Undercliffe practice explained the benefits of the new system: “Traditional paper-based records are sometimes lost, difficult to read, bulky, incomplete or inaccessible when they are needed. They can no longer support the increasing demand and more complex needs of today’s health service. The new care records will hopefully allow key information to be legible, up-to-date, accurate and comprehensive, and lead to better communications and results to and from hospital."

The national patient record database will initially hold details including a patient’s name, address, date of birth and NHS number, together with summary clinical information such as allergies, adverse reactions to drugs and any visits by the patient to A&E. This summary record will be available to authorised clinician’s nationally, enabling them to provide better informed care to a patient wherever they are treated.

Access to patient records on the new system is promised to be secure and only available to clinicians who have what is being described as a “legitimate relationship" with the patient – a genuine clinical need to view the patient’s record.

To access the record NHS staff at the practice have to use a unique smart card and PIN number. Each time they access the patient record it generates an audit trail for future reference.

It is intended that patients will also be provided with access to their summary electronic health record, though details of how this will be provided remain unclear.

Rhys North, Director of resources at North Kirklees Primary Care Trust, which Undercliffe Surgery falls within, said of the new system: “It will bring about real benefits in terms of clinical practice and the information available to the PCT to enable us to deliver quality health services for local patients."

Phil Molyneux, Chief Information officer, at West Yorkshire Strategic Health Authority, said: “We are working to deliver a change programme on a massive scale that will have a real impact on patient care and working lives for staff in the NHS."