Scotland gets system for sharing GP information

SPIRE to make anonymised patient data from GPs available for research on public health and planning issues

NHS National Services Scotland (NHS NSS) has launched an information sharing system, drawing from GP records, to support planning in health and social care.

Stethescope by laptopNamed the Scottish Primary Care Information Resource (SPIRE), it has been developed with the Royal College of GPs and the Scottish GP committee of the British Medical Association, backed up by an independent advisory group.

The system has been designed to transfer information from GPs to NHS NSS and provide a channel for requests for research purposes by GPs, other NHS organisations and approved researchers.

The data will include date of birth, gender, vaccinations, diagnoses and prescribed medicines, but not any names, other personal details or notes made by a doctor or nurse. It will all be encrypted before it leaves the GP practice.

NHS NSS said it is not a national database and will not routinely collect patient data or extract information unless it is needed for a specific, approved purpose. The information will not be stored for any longer than necessary, being deleted after use.

It also said the system was designed with a focus on strong governance and security, and that GP practices will have control over all data that they make available.

Opt out

The system will work on an ‘opt out’ model of patient consent, so that anyone who does not wish for their data to be shared will have to inform their GP. NHS NSS is about to begin a four-week public information campaign to explain the arrangements to patients.

Dr Libby Morris, clinical lead for SPIRE, said: “SPIRE is a major step forward for public health in Scotland and will allow information from GP patient records to be safely transferred electronically to NHS NSS and held securely, ensuring the highest standards of patient confidentiality and privacy.

“Doctors’ surgeries, NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government will be able to improve care and plan services, while researchers can use information that could help to develop new treatments for particular conditions or diseases.”

Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of BMA Scotland General Practitioners’ Committee, cited the example of GPs being able to analyse how many of their diabetic patients have eye problems then plan for screening and interventions.

“There are many different examples of how, with the right information, you can target the right kind of things to help people with their everyday lives,” he said.

‘We need a better understanding of the health of Scotland’s population, and know where to spend our money, time and resources, to make it better. We need Scotland to be a healthier nation and SPIRE is essential for that.”

Image by Daniel Sone (photographer), public domain via Wikimedia Commons