Northern Ireland health minister, Michael McGimpsey, has launched the Northern Ireland Emergency Care Record – a new emergency care project for patients attending A&E and out-of-hours services.

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust will be the first in Northern Ireland to introduce the NI Emergency Care Record (NIECR).

Based on the Scottish Emergency Care Record, the NIECR is a summary of patient information taken from GP practices. It includes the patient’s date of birth and gender; their address and phone number; current medication and any known allergies.

Launching the new project during a visit to the GP out-of-hours centre based at Craigavon Area Hospital, McGimpsey said: “Most people imagine that if they need medical help in the night or at a week-end and are treated by staff in an Out-of-Hours setting, or at an A&E Department, the staff there will have access to their medical records. This is not the case."

He added: “All of the diagnoses and treatments carried out by the clinicians in GP Out-of-Hours and A&E services are based on what the patient tells the doctors, for example, what they are allergic to or what medication they are currently taking, and any information that is available from previous visits. But this carries a degree of risk to patients, particularly when they may be too ill, confused or traumatised to remember.”

The GP out-of-hours services based at South Tyrone Hospital, Dungannon and Mullinure, Armagh will be the first in the province to use the Emergency Care Record.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) told E-Health Insider: “The NI Emergency Care Record will now make key information from patients’ medical records, held by GP practices, available to GP Out-of-Hours and Accident and Emergency staff.”

Chief executive of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, Colm Donaghy, added: “The Emergency Care Record will give staff working in the GP Out-of-Hours service more detailed medical information about their patients, enabling them to make more informed decisions in their treatment and give them the best possible care."

Donaghy added: "Only the health service staff involved in treating the patient will have access to this information, and we have stringent measures in place to control access and protect patient confidentiality.”

Each household in Armagh and Dungannon has received a mailshot, giving patients the chance to opt out of the Emergency Care Record. Patients will be asked for their explicit consent to access their record each time they are being treated by the GP Out of Hours service.

Only in exceptional circumstances, where a patient is seriously ill and unable to give consent, will the doctor have the discretion to access their Emergency Care Record in the interests of their safe treatment.

The scheme will be extended to the Accident and Emergency and GP Out of Hours Services at Craigavon Area Hospital over the coming months before hopefully being rolled out across the rest of Northern Ireland, a DHSSPS spokesperson said.

In Northern Ireland there are 5 GP Out-of-Hours Services which deal with around 450,000 patient contacts either by phone or in person per annum.

There are also 11 A&E departments which operate a 24 hour service and in total they handle around 700,000 attendances per annum.