Doctors have voted for a public inquiry into NHS Connecting for Health (CfH) and have called on the BMA to advise doctors not to co-operate with the centralised storage of medical records.

The National Programme for IT was the subject of strong criticism at the association’s annual representative meeting (ARM) this week where doctors claimed the NHS IT project was doomed to failure unless a grip was taken on the project and that patient information held on the NHS Care Records Service (NCRS) was not secure and confidential.

Dr Charlie Daniels, a GP in Torquay and chairman of Devon Local Medical Committee (LMC), told colleagues that patients and doctors would be the biggest losers if there was no public inquiry to into NPfIT.

He claimed key elements of the programme were not working and that costs were escalating, suppliers were in trouble and stakeholders were being ignored. He said that in 2002 everyone had hoped that NPfIT would drag local hospitals out of the IT Stone Age and connect them with GP surgeries

He added: “Do I see Torbay Hospital with an all singing and dancing IT system that can give me a basic e-mail discharge summary? No – we still get a badly handwritten flimsy note which arrives days later.”

Dr Grant Ingrams, secretary of West Midlands Regional LMC, failed to convince colleagues that CfH had started to listen more carefully to what clinicians and patients needed and that calls for an inquiry were unnecessary.

He added: “Do we really need a public inquiry to state the obvious?”

On the NCRS Dr Daniels described the smartcards already in circulation in the NHS as “300,000 keys to open one lock” and said many patients had reasons for not wanting to have their details on the spine.

“Patients are being bullied when they are told that their care will suffer or that they are putting their lives at risk if they do not have their details on the spine. Patients are also being bullied when they are being told that they will not be able to access services if they do not have their details on the spine. This is disgraceful and should be deplored.”

Doctors backed a motion, against the advice of Dr Richard Vautrey from the BMA’s working party on NHS IT, which called on the association to advise doctors not to co-operate with the proposed centralised storage of all medical records which they claimed seriously endangered patient confidentiality.

Dr Paddy Glackin, a GP in Brent, London, claimed doctors did not need to be involved with CfH as a national system was unnecessary.

He added: “I’ve looked back on my patients – of 6,000 patients in our practice over the last four years two have become ill outside our region. That’s one for 10,000 patient years.”

The conference also backed a call for medical students to have access to electronic patient records after hearing that in much of the country students were unable to view PACS images and other electronic data.