The British Medical Association (BMA) has defended its decision to advise GPs in England to turn off the Update Record functionality that allows pharmacies to share clinical updates from Pharmacy First consultations.

In a statement shared with The Pharmacist, Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair and digital lead of BMA's GP Committee, said the BMA was ‘concerned’ about 'unintended consequences' of the software changes, including that GPs would need to 'ensure follow up and ongoing care is provided to the patient due to other clinicians decisions'.

The GP Connect Update Record has recently been rolled out to ‘most pharmacies’ and allows pharmacists to send ‘structured’ updates to GP practices about Pharmacy First consultations that can easily be added to the patient record.

But on Friday, the BMA instructed GPs to switch off the GP Connect Update Record functionality as a matter of urgency, after learning that NHS England (NHSE) was making moves to prevent this action.

Last night, Dr Wrigley said the BMA had made the recommendation to GPs while the union engaged in discussions with NHSE ‘to better understand the implications of this software’.

He added: ‘As GPs are responsible for the information within a patients’ record – which can be now viewed by a patient - we are concerned about changes that allow others to add diagnoses, observations and medications.

‘These changes could have unintended consequences and add further pressure to the GP needing to ensure follow up and ongoing care is provided to the patient due to other clinicians decisions and actions. This will include more requests for follow ups and support for patients for work initiated by others outside the practice team.

‘As data controllers, GPs have a responsibility to have full oversight of the data of their patients. We're not saying “no” to this development, just “not yet”.’

On X, chair of BMA south west regional council Dr Lucy-Jane Davis commented that the action was about the future potential of the GP Connect system, which she warned would be ‘the biggest workload dump imaginable’ for GPs.

The Update Record functionality, which is still being rolled out and has only recently reached ‘most pharmacies’, currently allows pharmacies to send ‘structured’ updates to GP practices about Pharmacy First (minor illness and clinical pathways), Hypertension Case Finding and Pharmacy Contraception services.

According to Community Pharmacy England: 'Update Record means that GP practice staff no longer have to spend time manually finding records and transcribing information from PDF letters sent by NHSmail.

'Records will be sent straight into the GP systems in a standardised format and practices can either choose to have them automatically filed into the patient record, or set the system so that they can be viewed by practice staff and the information can then be filed with the click of a button. This will save time, speed up the transfer of information to make updates to records more timely and reduce transcribing errors.’

Urgent communication with GPs should still be sent via other means, however.

Yesterday Alastair Buxton, director of NHS Services at CPE, told The Pharmacist that it seemed ‘counterintuitive’ for GPs ‘to switch off functionality designed to reduce administrative workload at practices and improve patient safety’.

He added that if GP practices chose to switch off the functionality, then community pharmacy IT systems would automatically revert to using NHSmail, while Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association, suggested that pharmacies may even have to revert to paper-based solutions.