North East digital record sharing to start within weeks

Urgent and emergency care clinicians in the North East will be able to access GP-held patient records electronically within a few weeks, thanks to a new system supported by the North East and North Cumbria Urgent and Emergency Care Network.

The Medical Interoperability Gateway (MIG) system, which is expected to be operating across the region by April, offers secure, real-time access to a summary of GP-held records for emergency doctors, nurses and paramedics, so that they can make clinical decisions with easy access to up-to-date medical records.

The MIG, which has already been rolled out by partner organisations in Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle Gateshead, will securely share information held by 96% of the region’s 369 practices, representing around 2.7 million patients.

The system provides access to ten data fields, including details of medical conditions, medication, operations and treatment, tests requested or carried out, with consent from the patient.

Dr Stewart Findlay, the network’s chair and chief clinical officer at NHS Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“This will bring real benefits to patients and clinicians alike, with clear safeguards in place to ensure patients’ information is secure.

“With real-time access to up to date and accurate information, medical professionals can offer better advice and safer, more effective care. Less time will be wasted getting hold of medical records, and patients will spend less time answering the same questions more than once.

“The system provides the sort of details that are already shared using slower and less secure methods, like phone, letter and fax. That means patients will spend less time answering the same questions as they move through the system, and for some patients it could mean not having to be admitted to hospital, or being able to leave sooner.

“We know that some patients will want to consider the scheme carefully, so we have a helpline, email service and website available to help anyone who may have concerns. So far the opt-out rate has been very low as people are reassured by the safeguards and medical benefits of this system.

“For doctors it means less time tracking down records from multiple sources, and fewer delays to treatment, for example during the night when a GP practice is not available to confirm a patient’s current medications. Areas already using the system have found that it saves a lot of time for both the emergency care practitioner and GP practices.”

The view-only system will be available during periods of care to NHS healthcare providers including hospitals, mental health services, out-of-hours doctors and the ambulance service.

The patient will be asked by the healthcare professional for consent to access their record at the start of each period of care, with all access subject to regular audit to ensure that records are only accessed by appropriate professionals.

All patients will be included in the system unless they choose to opt out, in which case their information will not be available to health professionals.

The regionwide MIG rollout, which is led by the North East and North Cumbria Urgent and Emergency Care Network and its partners, is seen as an important first step towards the long-term vision for a Great North Care Record, which is supported by the Connected Health Cities initiative.

The regional MIG project is funded by the national New Models of Care (vanguard) programme and supported by CCGs, NHS Trusts, out-of-hours GP services, North East Ambulance Service and GP practices across the North East.

It is one of a range of projects backed by the network, which has committed to continuing its work to transform the North East’s urgent and emergency care system after the end of its national Vanguard funding in March.

Projects include a new clinical hub providing additional clinical expertise to NHS 111, the pioneering Respond mental health crisis training package, and a popular NHS Child Health smartphone app.