Just 60 patients a month – out of almost 5m with a Summary Care Record – are viewing their SCR via the government’s patient portal, HealthSpace.

The latest figures obtained by EHI Primary Care show that patients have so far demonstrated very little appetite for online access to their record via the portal.

The figures have come to light as the Department of Health works on its forthcoming information strategy, in which online access to records for patients is likely to feature prominently.

The DH has described online record access as a “headline objective” for its NHS reforms and this week a spokesperson told EHI Primary Care that an outline business case to enhance the HealthSpace service was in the approvals process.

The previous, Labour government launched HealthSpace’s advanced account in 2007.

This enables patients to view their SCR through the portal, which was originally set up as an online health organiser.

However, in more than three years, fewer than 3,000 patients have chosen to set up such an account.

Just ten primary care trusts are offering patients advanced accounts; 2,971 of their patients had set up an advanced account by 26 January this year; and 673 patients have viewed their SCR via the portal.

A DH spokesperson said: "An estimated 60 patients view their SCR each month through HealthSpace.”

Access to HealthSpace’s Communicator functionality, which enables GPs or other clinicians and patients to send and receive secure electronic messages, has also been very limited so far.

The DH said three GP practices were evaluating Communicator with clinicians from community and acute care. Two more projects are due to be set up this month.

Professor Trish Greenhalgh, author of an independent evaluation of the SCR and HealthSpace, and professor of primary health care and director of the Health Innovation and Policy Unit at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said the latest figures did not surprise her at all.

She added: “Assuming we still live in a democracy, I suggest that in addition to the raw statistics on SCR views, the answers to a number of questions need to be found and placed in the public domain, preferably as a response to a Parliamnetary question.”

Her list of question includes: how many patients have viewed their SCR more than once; the total cost per view; and what evidence there is that a view of the SCR is providing patients with information they did not know, changing the way they manage their health and illness, or reducing their use of NHS services.

She added: “Does the coalition government intend to revisit the statement that HealthSpace has ‘huge potential to improve the safety and efficiency of care’ made in the House of Commons Health Committee Report on the Electronic Patient Record in 2007?”

The DH said it expected the number of PCTs offering HealthSpace to grow following the conclusion of its SCR review, which gave the go-ahead to the summary record after concerns about the consent model and patient information programme.

The DH said six more PCTs were planning to implement advanced account registration facilities this year “with others currently also considering how to support patients to register for advanced accounts.”

The registration process for advanced accounts has been criticised as being far too laborious, with patients required to attend a face-to-face manual registration process and have a secure login card for ongoing use.

Only PCTs that have a manual registration process agreed and in place are able to offer advanced accounts.

The latest business case for expansion of HealthSpace includes the introduction of an online registration and authentification service.

But a previous business case for additional functionality costing £98m was rejected by the DH in 2009 because it was considered too high a risk.

Professor Greenhalgh’s report on HealthSpace said that, following the rejection of the £98m business case, HealthSpace received one year’s funding worth £18m from the Darzi stream for a year from January 2010.