GPs are calling for national standards on remote access to practice computer systems because of concerns that present methods could potentially put patient data at risk.

Dr Paul Bromley, a GP in Leek, Staffordshire, and colleagues from the EMIS National User Group are unhappy that the current arrangements delegate decision-making to primary care trusts (PCTs) and argue that definitive national guidance is needed.

Dr Bromley, who has developed a special interest in remote access over the last few years, says that for several years he used the solution offered by Cable and Wireless, and latterly BT, which secured the connection between the remote computer and NHSnet.

He told EHI Primary Care: “It was only later, after somebody pointed it out to me, that I realised the virtual private network tunnel only went as far as the NHSnet connection, not all the way to our practice server and so could be intercepted form within NHSnet.”

Since then Dr Bromley has started using a piece of software called SSH to secure the final leg of the journey which he believes is secure but argues that definitive guidance is necessary. Other practices have started to use software called LogMeIn, a US-based system, which allows remote access to computers.

Dr Bromley said: “There has been a lot of discussion about this on the EMIS server and again although this works very well it has been pointed out to me that it goes via a third party sever and also that someone could potentially put spyware on the remote computer that could capture your passwords and so on.”

The issue of remote access was the responsibility of the NHS Information Authority. Since its demise, however, this has been delegated to PCTs. GPs say they are concerned that no-one at PCT level will have sufficient expertise in remote access security.

Dr Bromley added: “We feel that this needs to be taken up nationally so that we get a solution which has a national stamp of approval on it. It’s crazy really that people are passing the buck on something like this that’s so critical.”

He said he had contacted Dr Gillian Braunold, CfH national GP clinical lead, who had promised to take it up within the agency. He said he was also considering setting up an e-petition to garner support for the issue.