GPs in England have been urged to switch off the GP Connect Update Record functionality that allows community pharmacies to update patient records with Pharmacy First consultations, following instruction from the British Medical Association (BMA).

Removing GP Connect was one of BMA GP Committee England’s (GPC) suggestions for potential industrial action to commence on 1 August, depending on the result of a ballot of GP partners which will close on Monday 29 July.

But the GPC instructed practices on Friday to do so immediately after finding out NHS England was making moves to prevent this action.

The GP Connect Update Record API has been rolling out since March to connect practices’ systems to community pharmacy and enable updates as part of the Pharmacy First scheme.

The GPC said that while the functionality currently only permits Pharmacy First updates, ‘this is about its future potential’ which will be ‘the biggest workload dump imaginable’.

GPC England chair Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer said that practices needed to ‘take steps now’ as the BMA understood that NHS England had asked IT providers to remove the option for GPs to turn incoming record updates off.

With the 'off switch' understood to planned to be removed by today by today (1 July), Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer told practices that the weekend was ‘a critical window’ to act.

In a video message sent to GPs, Dr Bramall-Stainer said: ‘When this function was designed, NHS England said they did not want an off switch. But under GDPR, you as the practice, you are the data control over the patient record. TPP and EMIS are the data processor and the patient is the data subject.

‘So actually, as the data controller, you do need to have the ability to control what goes into the patient record by third parties.’

System provider TPP confirmed to our sister publication Pulse that it ‘recently received’ a ‘request from NHS England’ to remove the option for practices to opt-out of incoming Pharmacy First Update Record messages, but said it was 'not making this change’.

A spokesperson said: ‘We are currently in discussions with NHS England regarding this. We will keep practices updated and no changes will be made without significant prior notice.

‘We want to reassure practices that there are no planned changes to the controls that practices already have in SystmOne regarding Pharmacy First Update Record.

‘The controls regarding Pharmacy First Update Record are already available to each practice. There is no need to email TPP if you wish to amend these.’

GP ballot to 'draw a line in the sand'

The move was originally proposed as one of nine actions for GP practices to choose from, if the BMA's upcoming vote on collective action goes through.

The BMA is currently balloting GP partners amid concerns over this year's GP Contract.

And it suggested changes could be permanent if a new satisfactory contract is not agreed, adding that the action was ‘an opportunity for a collective professional reset, to draw a line in the sand and say “no more”'.

‘It's not a strike, it's not a crash diet - this is more a lifestyle modification. It's going to continue this way; it's not just for the summer,' the BMA said.

‘It is until the next government comes to the table and agrees a new contract that is safe for GP contractors / partners, their practices, and their patients.’

Under the ballot proposals, practices could also switch off the medicines optimisation software embedded by the local Integrated Care Board (ICB) where it is used ‘for the purposes of system financial savings and/or rationing, rather than the clinical benefit of your patients’, the BMA suggested.

And practices could limit daily patient contacts per clinician ‘to the UEMO recommended safe maximum of 25’, and then ‘divert patients to local urgent care settings’ once this daily maximum capacity has been reached.

Practices can ‘pick and choose’ from the BMA’s list of proposed actions ‘as they see fit’.

‘You may decide to add to your choices over the days, weeks, and months ahead. This is a marathon, not a sprint,’ the BMA told GP contractors.

‘Some of these actions can be permanent changes – professional, collective and a single opportunity to embrace sustainable and safe change. Others may be de-escalated following negotiations with the new government,’ it added.

What is Update Record?

In a notice published on Friday, Community Pharmacy England (CPE) said the Update Record functionality, that allows pharmacies to update patient records with Pharmacy First, blood pressure and contraception consultations, has been rolled out 'to most pharmacies'.

'Update Record allows information about patient consultations outside of general practice to be shared safely with general practice, so the information can be updated in the patient record,' it said.

'The messages are "structured" which means they transfer into the GP system in a consistent and standardised way that systems can "read". This allows them to be easily filed.

'The system will initially support community pharmacies to share information with GP practices about consultations performed under the Pharmacy First (minor illness and clinical pathways), Hypertension Case Finding and Pharmacy Contraception services. In the future, this will expand to include updates for urgent supply of medicines under the Pharmacy First service.'

Digital provider EMIS Pinnacle started rolling out the GP Connect Update Record feature to all community pharmacy teams using PharmOutcomes from Friday 28th June 2024, CPE said, initially covering Hypertension Case-finding Service and Pharmacy Contraception Service consultations.

Live testing is still ongoing for Pharmacy First minor illness and clinical pathways consultations through EMIS Pinnacle and for Hypertension Case-finding Service, Pharmacy Contraception Service, and Pharmacy First consultations through Sonar.

The feature has already been launched by Cegedim and Positive Solutions, which together have sent over 44,000 structured updates to date.

A version of this story was first published by our sister publication Pulse.