Last reviewed 31 October 2023

The British Medical Association (BMA) has joined more than 20 violence against women organisations to express concerns around granting vulnerable patients access to their GP record.

NHS England’s deadline for GP practices to offer automatic access to prospective records via the NHS App is 31 October 2023, as stated in the changes to the GP contract.

However, The BMA’s GP Committee (GPC) England said it has “grave concerns” regarding the safety implications of this imposed contractual requirement, and earlier this year considered a legal challenge to further delay implementation.

The GPC statement currently says: “Given our current and ongoing concerns we are taking further legal advice and challenging the way this project is being rolled out in the contract imposition we have faced. We will provide more information on this challenge in the coming months.”

GPC guidance warns that once prospective access goes live, all patients will get instant access to all new information on their record, and practices “should expect to field more queries related to what patients see on their records, either to rectify incorrect information or to better understand that information”. As a result, it said, practices should “ensure that they are recording information in a way that a patient can readily understand and which does not cause offence”.

Now, more than 20 organisations including Refuge, Women’s Aid, and End Violence Against Women Coalition have published a joint letter with the BMA stating concerns around survivors’ medical records on the NHS App. They express concerns about the safety of domestic abuse survivors and victims of stalking, because perpetrators of domestic abuse may be able to gain access to their records by coercing the survivor to share access.

GPC England Chair Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer clarified: “For the majority of patients, access to their GP record on their smartphone will be a welcome development. However, for a significant number of patients, especially those members of our society who are most vulnerable–women, children and those lacking capacity — the forced implementation of this process is a cause for concern for us as GPs.”

The advice is that GP practices “should be sensitive to the risks created by these changes” and take “a proactive approach to protecting patients”, particularly where there are safeguarding concerns, and should be aware that women may be concerned and practices should “respond speedily” to requests to turn off access.

The joint letter urges survivors to:

  • contact their GP and request that access to their information is removed

  • consider deleting the NHS App from their device “until better safeguarding and protections are in place”

  • review any other medical apps they have downloaded on their devices, as they may lack adequate security measures if they were installed historically.