Today I have a guest post talking about a recent BBC new story where a man was going to be charged £2,000 to obtain old health records from the NHS. I hadn’t come across this problem before so it was interesting for me to find out: what happens in a situation like this now, does a NHS patient have to pay so much money to get access to their doctors notes and test results?
You can guess that no, £2,000 is not the normal fee to be charged for access to your old health files. Find out the answer below. If you have ever tried to get access to your old blood tests, MRI scan results from the NHS? Did you find it hard to get copies of them if you did? Let me know in a comment below.
The Mystery of Medical Records
by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors
A health record is a document relating to an individuals’ physical or mental health produced by, or on behalf of a health professional. This may include notes from a GP as well as more specialist records such as scans. Health records are held by professionals in both the NHS and private sector: this could be anyone from a dentist to an art therapist, or a scientist employed by a health service as a head of department. Records are either held electronically or as paper files, and under the Data Protection Act 1998, you have a legal right to access them.
This can be of particular importance if you are working with medical solicitors and pursuing a medical negligence claim, as these documents can serve as evidence in any potential cases. However, a recent news story reported that a Worcestershire man was requested to pay £2,000 to obtain his records, sparking concern over access rights, as well as leading many to question aspects of health record privacy.
So how easy is it to see your files? You do not have to provide a reason for access, and depending on which you wish to see, a request should be submitted in writing or email to the relevant individual. This is known as a Subject Access Request. The Data Protection Act states that requests should be met within 40 days, however, your request may be denied by the health records manager, GP or other professional in certain circumstances. For example, if it is believed that their release will cause serious mental or physical harm to you or someone else you may be denied access. This seems to call into question the level of patient freedom supposedly allowed under the Act.
In the case of the Worcestershire man Andrew Brown, it was not allowing access to his records which was problematic, rather, the fee imposed by his local NHS Trust. Seeking a copy of a cardiac ultrasound made in 2004, he was told that ultrasounds made during this period were stored on obsolete technology and would require the purchase of new equipment to reproduce them. The NHS states that obtaining records is free of charge if they were made within the last 40 days, are in paper form and you don’t require a copy. It also states that in some cases a £10 fee is required and in those that relate to records stored in a non-computer ‘entirely different form’ a maximum fee of £50 applies. This is somewhat less than the figure demanded of Mr. Brown, who has expressed his concern that he could be only one of thousands of patients who are in a similar situation.
Difficulties of access may be alleviated come 2015, when plans are in place to allow patients to access records online. Yet the proposal by the Department of Health seems to have further complicated the matter, provoking worries of privacy breaches. David Evans, of the Information Commissioner’s Office voiced his concerns over ‘potential abuse by unscrupulous individuals’ looking to exploit this new access. He highlighted the dangers of storing medical records on computer files by referring to a case earlier this year in which Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust was fined £325,000 after highly sensitive records of patients kept on hard drives were sold online in 2010.
As patients, we all put our privacy and wellbeing in the hands of health professionals, and demand the upmost in care and protection in return. This includes not only the highest quality of care of patients, but also of their sensitive health records in the long-run.
The Bottom Line
So what I learnt from today’s guest post is that the £2,000 is nowhere to be seen in the rules for access to information on the NHS. You can even email your GP practice or hospital trust under the Subject Access Request to view health test results. There are different fees you might need to pay the NHS. The minimum charge just to view your records is £10 if you want a copy in whatever format the maximum charge is £50. So you are allowed to see what your results are and I think maybe paying up to £60 to see this and get a copy is well worth it to keep your own health records as well. It does help other healthcare practitioners, like a chiropractor, when you can bring your old test results and scans with you for your first consultation.