Will High Street Pharmacists use the Summary Care Record to sell you things?

The Telegraph, followed up by the Independent and Daily Mail, reports today that Boots and other pharmacies – including the large supermarket pharmacies – may from this Autumn be granted access to the Summary Care Record*. There are concerns that such access may be used for marketing purposes. Further details will likely follow in due course.

Under current rules, patients should always be asked for their consent – what is called “Permission To View” – before anyone looks at their Summary Care Record. How the high street pharmacies, and their commercial managers with their incentives to cross-sell remedies, will make this work in practice is an open question.

Safeguards that may operate in a hospital context are going to have to be applied to a whole range of other (possibly non-medically registered) people, who must all be properly trained and rigorously audited on an ongoing basis. A considerable investment must be made if pharmacies are to be given access and patient confidentiality and consent is to be maintained. A report of a pilot scheme earlier this year found, for example, that:

The principles around asking patients for permission to view (PTV) their SCR and its practical application for some prevalent patient groups in the pharmacy setting caused confusion and uncertainty.

medConfidential hopes the Department of Health will urgently clarify the rules around using NHS medical records for marketing to patients.

* The Summary Care Record (SCR) was originally intended “for emergency or out-of-hours” access to your last 12 months’ prescriptions and information about any allergies you suffer from and any bad reactions to medicines that you have previously experienced. The SCR also contains your name, address, date of birth and your NHS Number.

What you can do

If you have a Summary Care Record (around 94% of the population do) and you are concerned that your record may be misused or abused, you can opt-out of the scheme. Here’s a link to the official opt-out form, which you need to fill in and give to your GP.

Please note: the Summary Care Record is entirely different from care.data. SCR is intended for use only by those providing you with direct care; care.data (a different scheme, currently on “pause”) is about ‘secondary uses’ of information from your medical record, i.e. purposes like research, commissioning, “healthcare intelligence” and commercial re-use.

N.B. If you do have particular allergies or bad reactions to particular types of medicine, having this information available to emergency responders is directly beneficial to you, so you may wish to look into getting a MedicAlert bracelet or something equivalent.

A long-term solution, which could provide reassurance to all patients, is for every patient to know everywhere their data has been used, by whom, and for what purpose. Such an approach would make any abuse, even by a single Boots store manager looking to hit their targets, highly transparent – not just to officials at NHS England, but to every patient themselves.