GPs must inform their patients before carrying out a blanket opt-out of all their patients from the Summary Care Record, the Information Commissioner’s Office has said.

The ICO said that opting out all of a practice’s patients without first informing them could be considered as “unfair processing”. Earlier this week a former chair of the BMA’s GP IT Committee, Dr Paul Cundy, recommended that GPs should opt-out all their patients en masse.

The ICO’s stance on mass opt-outs has been revealed in response to a request for guidance from Dr Neil Bhatia, a Hampshire GP who has campaigned against the SCR and pledged only to upload SCRs for patients who have given explicit consent.

In a letter to Dr Bhatia, the office said that it is more likely to be fair if GPs inform patients of their intention to opt-out all patients.

The letter adds: “The provision of fair processing information on its own is insufficient; patients must be told in advance of the GP’s intention to opt them all out and be given the opportunity to object.”

The ICO said GPs needed to be confident that their patients had been clearly informed of the situation but said it was not prepared to be prescriptive about how GPs should do that or how GPs should indicate their objection.

Dr Bhatia has run a five year information campaign in his practice about the SCR and recorded opt-outs from 20% of his practice list but has not yet opted-out all patients.

Dr Cundy claims the SCR is unsafe and has advised GPs to add the Read code 93C3 (refused consent for upload to national shared electronic record) to all patients.

Dr Bhatia told EHI Primary Care: “I think it’s reassuring. I wanted to know that as a practice we were doing everything we could to comply with the Data Protection Act. The important thing is that you must tell your patients and I don’t think putting up one poster in the lobby is good enough.”

Dr Bhatia said that his own practice has displayed information in the surgery, including information in practice booklets, on the website, on emails and run messages on the bottom of repeat prescriptions as part of its own efforts to inform patients about the SCR.

He said he will not be adding the 93C3 code to all records at the moment as NHS Hampshire has no plans to join the SCR roll-out but would do so when and if Hampshire decided to join the programme.

Dr Bhatia criticised the BMA which this week said it was not BMA policy for practices to carry out a blanket opt-out from the SCR.

He added: “It is de facto policy because BMA policy for years has been that patients must give explicit consent and this is the only way of achieving that.rdquo;c

Connecting for Health said it had sought guidance from the ICO in May 2010 about GPs considering opting out all their patients from the SCR. It said the ICO advised that GPs should take reasonable steps to ensure that the majority of patients are informed about their intentions to opt them out and that the issue of GPs opting out patients en masse may raise data protection issues.