In an eleventh-hour decision NHS England on 29 November halted the automatic, blanket roll-out of a scheme that would have given all NHS patients in England prospective online access to their GP-held records the day before it was due to come in. 

The high-profile scheme to enable patents to automatically view their GP records via the NHS app by 30 November, has been a key digital promise by successive Conservative health secretaries. 

The last-minute u-turn came following a series of talks between the British Medical Association (BMA) and NHS England, in which the BMA made clear many practices would not be ready to roll out the programme in a safe way for patients, and that it didn’t comply with their data protection obligations. 

The BMA says the decision is the ‘right thing to do’ for patient safety. 

Until yesterday [29 November] the NHS England plan was for a mass roll-out on 30 November, which would automatically give patients the ability to view their prospective GP medical record via the NHS App.  

The BMA said in a statement that while some practices were ready to implement this, many expressed concerns over safety aspects and that it wasn’t fit for purpose at the present time. 

“As data controllers of the patient record, GPs need to be sure the right safeguarding measures are in place to protect certain vulnerable patients who might access their records – for example, for those living with an abusive partner, or patients with particular health conditions. 

“Practices that have written to their IT clinical software supplier to ask that they do not turn on the functionality, will not see the programme switched on automatically on 30 November, as had been planned. 

“Those that have not sent such a letter will be contacted by their system supplier to discuss what happens next, and when switch on will occur for them. These practices can still opt-out at this stage by sending a letter to their suppliers. The BMA will be in dialogue with IT clinical software suppliers on the next steps.” 

Patients can still request access to their digital records on an individual basis, as is the case now. 

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of GPC England at the BMA, said: “We’re pleased to hear that NHS England has decided to review the pace and timing of the automatic, mass roll-out of the Citizens’ Access programme. This is, without doubt, the right thing to do for patient safety. 

“We want patients to be able to access their GP medical records, but this must be done carefully, with the appropriate safeguards in place to protect them from any potential harm.

“The deadline of 30 November was, for many practices, just too soon to do this, and removing it will come as a huge relief to GPs and their teams across the country.” 

NHS England published an update on its website that downplayed the last-minute droping of the 30 November deadline for switching on automatic updates and stating “we are continuing to work at pace to make the necessary changes to allow patients access to their information. This will happen in a phased rollout, where suppliers will notify practices in advance of their planned switch on date”.

The reversal is reminiscent of the late suspension of the GP Data Extraction Service in the summer of 2021, also following concerns from the BMA and GPs.