For the Online access to GP health records – what’s in it for patients? webinar held with NHS England on 16th March we were joined by an excellent panel that included:

  • Patients Association members Claude and Greta who spoke about what the benefits are to them of being able to access their health information digitally
  • GP Dr Brian McMillan, a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Centre for Primary Care and Health Services Research, University of Manchester, and a Registered Health Psychologist, who talked about GPs' and their staff's perspectives on patients' access to their health records
  • Registered nurse Tristan Stanton who is Assistant Director of Programmes – Primary Care, at NHS England and leads the programme to give people access to their online health records, who explained more about the programme.

The Patients Association's Chief Executive, Rachel Power, chaired the webinar.

If you missed the webinar, you can watch a recording of it online. If you're interested in the presentations, Dr McMillan and Mr Stanton have kindly allowed us to share their slides.

Questions and answers from the webinar

We couldn’t answer all the questions asked during our webinar because of lack of time. So we’ve gone away and work to answer them. To make it easier to read, we’ve grouped the questions and their answers into themes.

How to access your health records

Can people who aren’t online still access their records by going into the practice and asking for them?

Yes, you can request a paper copy of your medical records, also called a health record, by asking your practice. This will usually be through a subject access request. You can read more about your rights of access.

How will NHS England support people who do not have digital access? What provision will there be for them?

NHS England is working to increase digital access for communities that find this difficult. But for people who do not want to access their records online, existing services will remain in place. See the NHS App accessibility statement.

If you’re interested in issues around health equity then this webinar held by the BMJ on ensuring access to health records doesn’t increase health inequalities has been recommended by Dr Brian McMillan, one of the panellists at our webinar.

Can you say a little more about the security of info on the NHS App. I sit as a patient representative on a digital governance group and there was a general worry about this new feature.

Your personal information is used to confirm your identity and set up your NHS login. This is done in line with data protection laws. Your information will not be shared without your consent. It is stored securely, in a way that follows the NHS login privacy notice.

Read more about the NHS App, including security and privacy information,

Can I access my medical records via the internet through a laptop or desktop computer rather than via a smartphone?

Yes, you can access your records by using your NHS login. Visit the NHS website for more information.

Is the NHS App the only app I can use to access my records?

There are a variety of secure approved apps that patients can use. For more information, visit the NHS website for options.

I can access my GP record online but there are no notes! Could my GP practice have disabled that facility?

Your practice may not have switched on full access to your records yet. All practices in England should switch on access to their patients’ future medical records by 31st October 2023, but you can request access ahead of this date.

Why are some practices delayed in offering access to patient records via the NHS App?

NHS England has phased the rollout to allow GP practices time to prepare. Practices may need to train their staff and update their systems before access can be offered automatically. All GP practices are required to provide access to patients by 31st October 2023. You can of GP practice staff.

How can I get access to my records before 31st October (when GPs across England will offer automatic records access)?

Practices can make access to patient’s record as soon as they are ready - they don't have to wait until October. If you would like access before your practice automatically switches it on, you can request it from your practice directly. You may need to fill in a form and bring some identification with you. All patients have the legal right to access their records. Your practice may still need time to prepare but should give you access before October 31 if you request it.

Switching off access or hiding records

Can information on my medical record be hidden? What would be an acceptable reason for this? Is it down to the GP’s judgement?

The expectation is that information will be made visible to you. Very occasionally, you may not be able to see some information in your medical records. This would only be for specific reasons such as confidential information about someone else that cannot be shared, or if the information could cause you or someone else serious harm. You can ask your GP to hide any information from appearing in your records. 

I understand that if a GP switches off access to my medical records via the NHS App there has to be a good reason. What if I disagree with my doctor and believe I should have access to my health record? How does one overcome that?

You have a right to see your medical records. A GP should only prevent access if there is a good reason, usually if there is concern access to your records could cause harm, or because you asked not to see your records. You can always speak to the practice manager or your GP if you want to discuss whether you should have access. If you disagree with the decision the GP has made, you can complain through the practice’s complaints process.

If you don’t have access via the NHS App right now, it might be that your GP hasn’t yet switched on access to your health records. If this is the case, it would be worth asking the practice to give you access.

Access to historic records

How do I get hold of my historical GP records? Online records only go back so far.

You can request access to your complete medical records by asking your GP. You may need to fill in a form and take in some identification to make this request.

Take a look at this information on seeing your medical records.

I already have access to my historic medical records, will I lose this now because the NHS only gives access to prospective information?

The changes the NHS is making will give automatic access to new information added to your GP health record. If you already have access to your health record, you should not lose any information you already have. If you want access to your historic records, you will continue to need to request this from your GP. GP practices have to give access to past records if you request it in writing. You may need to fill in a form and have your identification checked.

Access to hospital records and test results

Can I access my hospital records, or tests done in hospital, as well as my GP records through the NHS App?

You will be able to see any information that is saved in the medical records your GP holds about you. This will include most test results from hospitals that have been sent to and reviewed by your GP. In some areas of England, you can already access hospital records directly; NHS England does not yet have a timetable of when this will be available everywhere.

Some hospitals are already providing access to patients’ health information using their own apps.  We won’t be changing the access you might already have through your hospital’s app.

If results are received from another hospital or clinic is there a safety net to ensure patients can’t see them before the GP has seen them. to avoid any difficult news being received before having the appropriate support to understand it?

GPs review test results before they are entered into a patient’s medical records. Once entered, the GP may contact the patient to discuss first, before they can see it in their medical records.  

Correcting errors on the record

Can you correct any errors in the record yourself (eg allergies)? Or does the GP practice have to approve? Is there a limit on the type of information that patients can correct?

It isn't possible for a patient to correct information in their medical records themselves. You can speak to your GP about any errors you have noticed in your record. If the information is wrong, the GP can add the correct information to your record, but the original error will remain. This is because medical records are a legal document and information cannot always be removed. In some cases, if there is a disagreement, they may note your point of view on the record while leaving the original notes. You can read more about this here.

Other questions

Once the system is fully available, will GPs expect patients to use it? There is a danger that they won’t actively inform patients about results, assuming/expecting that patients will check it themselves online. It could be that the old ‘no news is good news’ approach means that patients don’t get in touch about results and the GP assumes the patient will access it online. The online access should not be used by GPs to cut corners in informing patients about test results.

Your doctor, nurse or receptionist might tell you that you can access your medical information online. However, GPs won't assume that anyone is accessing their records online, unless there is an explicit conversation that it is a patient’s preference to receive results online. Otherwise, GPs will still expect to speak to patients over phone, in person, or via text message.

Will a parent still be able to see the records of their young children? Can I see the records of someone I care for?

Proxy access (where you can see the records of someone you care for) is not affected by the changes NHS England is making to online records. If you wish to see the records of someone you care for, you will need to request this from your GP. If you already have this access, this will not change.

It would be helpful to have more information about the options that exist where a patient has activated a Health & Care Lasting Power of Attorney.

You can ask your GP for proxy access to the relatives' notes for whom you have power of attorney. This is separate to getting access to your own health records.

What access do commercial companies, pharmaceutical companies and research companies have to these data. Can it be shared systematically, securely and anonymously for research purposes so that everyone can benefit from new healthcare discoveries/improvements?

The changes NHS England is introducing are only about giving you access to your own GP health records. Read more about how your data are used for research and planning.

Are my GP-held medical records available to other healthcare professionals? For example, NHS 111 or hospitals? Can I show it to another medical professionals?

These changes are about giving you access to your own GP health records. NHS England is working to ensure a summary of your health records can be accessed by teams who look after you, but this isn't linked to patients having access to their medical records. You can choose to show the records you have access to, to other NHS staff if that is of benefit.

Will there be a short 'lay' explanation accompanying any complicated test results?

No, your GP should write notes in a way you will understand. But here’s a guide to common medical abbreviations  and information on blood tests.

 30 March 2023

Read Your health information at your fingertips an article on online access to health records, co-written by Dr Timothy Ferris, NHS England National Director of Transformation, and Rachel Power, our Chief Eecutive.

In the article, Dr Ferris writes about NHS England's ambition that patients are be able to see their GP health record "at the touch of a button". Rachel explains why we think how important it is that patients have access to their records. And three member of the Patients Association share why they find digital access to their records so useful.