News in brief

Free email account warning

A GP practice is taking action to improve the way it protects patient information after a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 led to a warning by the Information Commissioner.

The breach occurred when the practice used a free web-based email account to inform patients of upcoming smear test appointments. Patients later received an email from hackers using the same email account, posing as a doctor and asking them to give their bank account details. The practice was alerted, and the email account was closed.

Each GP practice is the "data controller" for information held by them about their patients under the Data Protection Act 1998. Data controllers have obligations in respect of data, particularly sensitive personal data. One obligation is that information is held securely and appropriate measures are in place to guard against accidental, unauthorised or unlawful loss of data. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is the independent organisation that upholds information rights and can investigate complaints about how data controllers handle information.

Find out more on the ICO website.

Complaints to NHS England

Since 1 April 2013, when PCTs ceased to exist, patient complaints which would formerly have been made to the local primary care body should now be directed to the commissioner of services – that is, either NHS England or the local Clinical Commissioning Group. The complaint will then be passed to a Local Area Team (LAT) which will seek consent from the complainant before contacting the practice for comments. At this stage, in order to preserve the professional relationship between the practice and the patient, we usually advise the practice to offer to respond direct. In cases where the complainant does not want to deal directly with the practice, the response can be sent to the LAT which will then draft a response. However, most complainants are happy for the practice to respond to them, with a copy to the LAT.

If the complainant is not satisfied with the response, they can refer their complaint to the Ombudsman. NHS England is not able to respond to complaints where the practice has already provided a response.

Exceptionally, a complainant might not allow the LAT to contact the practice but in such cases any response the LAT could provide would be limited by lack of information.

New president of RMBF

The Royal Medical Benevolent Fund (RMBF), the UK's leading charity for doctors, medical students and their families has welcomed a new President and a new Chair of Trustees.

The RMBF's new President, Parveen Kumar, is Professor of Medicine and Education at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London; and honorary consultant gastroenterologist and general physician at Barts and the London NHS Trust and the Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust. Parveen is a former President of the Royal Society of Medicine and the BMA. She is currently chair of the BUPA Foundation and a trustee of other charities.

The new Chair of Trustees is Roger Jones, Editor of the British Journal of General Practice, Emeritus Professor of General Practice at King's College London and Provost of the South London Faculty of the RCGP. He was formerly Dean of Teaching for the Health Schools at King's College London, Dean for External Affairs at Guy's, King's & St Thomas' School of Medicine and Executive Director at the Centre for Caribbean health.

RMBF CEO Steve Crone said, "We're delighted to welcome both Parveen and Roger and I look forward to working with them. Demand for the RMBF's services has increased dramatically over recent years so our new President and Chair join at an exciting and challenging time for the charity."

Find out more by visiting rmbf.org

Managing performance concerns of doctors on the Performers List

NHS England has published two guidance documents (1, 2) to help NHS England Local Area Teams (LATs) manage concerns about GPs on the Performers List in a consistent, reasonable and proportionate way.

When concerns are raised about a GP's performance, an NHS England senior manager responsible for quality and performance will undertake a preliminary investigation to establish the facts. Their report is then considered by a Performance Screening Group, which decides if there is a case to answer.

If there is a case, the concerns can still be dealt with locally. But if the concerns are serious or local support mechanisms have not resulted in improvement in performance then a doctor can be referred to a Performers List Decision Panel.

The final stages in the procedure are remediation and closure. There is also guidance about liaison between organisations investigating the same facts (e.g. LAT and GMC). The documents emphasise the importance of the role of Responsible Officers, who are accountable for effective governance systems that allow the identification, management and support of doctors about whom there are performance concerns.

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This page was correct at publication on . Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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