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Health & NHS scheme in chaos as government signals new legislation

NHS England's jigsaw logo for care.dataNHS England's jigsaw logo for care.dataWhether or not you have asked your GP to opt you out of the government’s scheme to provide your confidential medical records now held at local surgeries to researchers and others, or whether you intend to do so soon, the scheme has been pronounced as being in chaos by one of its firm supporters.

Just over a week ago, physician, academic and science writer Dr Ben Goldacre wrote in praise of (generally spoken as care-dot-data.)  At the weekend he was embarrassed, he said, to have to write that the scheme was a mess in need of new primary legislation to ensure it is secure and will not sell information to commercial buyers.

At briefings on Friday evening it was revealed that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt would announce this week that he will legislate on, but as an add-on to the Care Bill that is currently before Parliament. He will have to hurry as the Bill starts its report stage in the Commons next Monday (March 10.)

However the briefings seemed to come up very short on what critics want.  Hunt said he would prevent data – even when made anonymous – being sold to insurance companies.

But the words used were that data will only be released when there is a “clear health benefit” rather than for “purely commercial” use by insurers and other companies.

This seems to be an empty promise as health insurance companies – like BUPA and the American health insurance companies the government is keen to get involved in the NHS – could easily argue that they needed the data to provide ‘clear health benefits’ for their subscribers.

The Health Service Journal’s version of the Friday briefing was that NHS England was even considering a total u-turn and making the scheme one that patients could opt in to rather than opt out of. As one comment on the HSJ site said: “If the default is ‘opt out’ then is dead.”

The shambles is fast becoming a major test of whether the NHS is safe in the hands of the coalition government. Part of the problem is that having talked up the benefits and absolute safety of the scheme, the government has been caught out by the revelation of a recent sale of confidential data to the insurance industry.

No sooner had been put on hold for six months to give the government time to explain the benefits and safeguards to the public, than it was revealed that data for 47 million hospital patients had been sold to a group of insurers.

Some hours later, the head of refused to tell MPs about this sale because his organisation was too new. However, it has been pointed out that the insurance industry’s report using the purchased data carried the logo of his new organisation.  He has further explaining to do.

And as though ministers had not enough problems, the chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee has said doctors – who have the task of uploading the records from their surgeries to the central data bank – will have to be indemnified against potential legal action from patients who believe their records have been wrongly used.

That surely shows how little faith there is that our records will not be misused or will not be leaked or hacked.

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Hospital seeks nominations for its annual People’s Choice Award for community staff

Last year Sue Tucker (right) won the People’s Choice Award in Great Western Hospital Foundation Trust’s annual staff excellence awards. She works as an antenatal and newborn screening coordinator with the hospital’s community health services.

Sue was nominated by a couple who said she had given them support well beyond what they expected when they lost their baby.

Now GWH is asking again for nominations from patients and service users across Wiltshire who have experienced great care from the Trust’s community staff.  These services include community hospitals, community and neighbourhood nurses, care coordinators, therapists and staff in the services for children and young people.

Oonagh Fitzgerald, the director of staffing at GWH, believes the awards are a great way to celebrate successes to which staff contribute so much: “In a busy NHS Trust we don’t always get the chance to step back and reflect on the difference our staff make to people’s lives.”

“This is why I think the People’s Choice Award is particularly special; it’s a chance for patients and service users, their relatives or their friends to acknowledge those teams or individual members of staff who have gone the extra mile for them, and a chance for our Trust to formally recognise them.”

Judges, including a patient representative, will select a shortlist from the nominations received from the public and all those shortlisted will be invited to the awards ceremony in June at the STEAM museum in Swindon where the winners will be announced.

The deadline for nominations is 5.00pm on Friday, March 7.  You can download a nomination form at the GWH website or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 01793 604431 to request a nomination form.

You only have to listen to Sue Tucker to know it is worth taking the time to make a nomination: “I was so pleased to win: it was a real honour to be nominated.  It validates what you do on a daily basis when someone going through a difficult time makes the decision to nominate you.”


Print Email take a look at what the Health & Social Care Act says

The NHS' leafletThe NHS' leafletThis morning you could hear John Humphrys on Radio 4’s Today programme trying to get his head round the confidentiality issues on the collection by a new NHS organisation of all medical records from GPs’ surgeries – and their dissemination to others.

The man behind this scheme is Tim Kelsey (NHS National Director for Patients and Information.)  He told Today there was no chance that confidential information revealing  the identity of the person the records were about, would ever leak out.

Humphrys should have asked him what section 256 of the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Act really means. 

This quotation from the Act probably needs to be read in a very quiet place:

“Requests for collection under section 255: confidential information
(1)A request under section 255 is a confidential collection request if it is a request for the Information Centre to establish and operate a system for the collection of information which is in a form which— (a)identifies any individual to whom the information relates who is not an individual who provides health care or adult social care, or (b)enables the identity of such an individual to be ascertained.

(2)A person may make a confidential collection request under section 255 only if the request— (a)is a mandatory request, (b)relates to information which the person making the request (“R”) may require to be disclosed to R or to the Information Centre by the person holding it, or (c)relates to information which may otherwise be lawfully disclosed to the Information Centre or to R by the person holding it.”

Section 255 does say “the Secretary of State may direct the Information Centre not to comply with a request specified in the direction which is not a mandatory request.” But it also says he “may direct the Information Centre to comply with a request specified in the direction which was made by a person outside England.”

This last sentence is probably there to ease the way for American companies to enter the health service in England under the forthcoming trade deal between the EU and the USA.

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Update: medical records & - admission that patients ‘may lose trust’ in NHS

Our original report on '' can still be read below this new report.

NHS England, who are running the scheme to share medical records with third parties, have issued a worrying risk assessment of their scheme.

It says that using medical records without patients’ consent may lead to them losing trust in the confidentiality of the NHS.  

The assessment says the scheme runs the risk of degrading patient trust in the NHS, putting information at risk of hackers and identifies ‘a small residual risk’ that patients will be identified.

A frame from the NHS England video: is privacy just like a jigsaw?A frame from the NHS England video: is privacy just like a jigsaw?But it states baldly that the projected benefits of the scheme (see our earlier story below) outweigh the risks to patient privacy.  One of the identified benefits is providing a boost to economic growth.

A GP who lives in the north of England where the leaflets have already been delivered, wrote to the GP’s magazine PULSE that she had not been told how patients should opt out.  She added that some GPs were telling their patients to opt out of the ‘summary record scheme’ which is not at all the same as

Pulse had previously reported a poll of GPs indicating that 40 per cent of England’s GPs would be opting out of as regards their own medical records.

This GP pointed out that as information already given by patients was provided in strict confidence and good faith that it would never be shared, the default position ought to be that patients opt in to the scheme rather than having the responsibility to opt out.

She also says that the NHS’ own mandatory training on Information Governance states that consent must be sought each time information from medical records is proposed to be shared.  “How”, she asks, “can automatic sharing of these past records without actively seeking current verbal or written consent be legal under the data protection act?”

The basic problem is that at law medical records remain the property of the Secretary of State for Health – the man whose overall responsibility for the NHS was removed by the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Act.

The opt out form can be found here.

Go to this site to see the leaflet.

And to this site to read the full risk assessment text from NHS England.

There is a short animated video promoting on this page.


Before the end of the month we will all be getting a leaflet through the door about the government’s plans for our medical records.

The leaflet is titled “Better information means better care” and will explain how, from March, our medical records will be extracted from GP surgeries and passed to a new body called the Health and Social Care Information centre (HSCIC) so they can be placed on the ‘’ database.

The idea is to allow medical records to be shared with other parts of the NHS, researchers and private pharmaceutical companies.  And the aim is to improve and hasten research that will lead to advances in medicines and treatments.

The information will be ‘anonymised’ – it will not include your name but will still carry your NHS number, date of birth, post code, gender and ethnicity.  And as people in rural post codes know it is very easy to identify who’s who among a small number of homes.

It has also been admitted that there is a small risk that some patients could be identified by insurers and commercial health providers who could match their own data against the anonymised records.

If they have got permission to use the records and you are a client, they could match the anonymised information with their own data.   They will have your date of birth and post code and could make a match with the same categories of information on medical records.

Then they could see whether you had a drink problem or a long-term illness or even if you had told your doctor a certain condition was prevalent in your family.

The scheme is backed by many medical charities who say they need it to speed up their research.  And it is opposed by some who see it as a breach of principle about keeping private our most private data.

Any organisation or researchers can apply to the HSCIC for data and each application will be considered individually. 

The HSCIC will charge a fee to cover its costs, but there is no control at all over the potential profits that can be made from the data.

The government’s original idea was to make the scheme compulsory.  But you will be able to opt out of it.  

However the leaflet will not contain an opt-out form.  To opt out you have to go to your GP. And there has been criticism that information about this route for opting out is pretty well hidden away.

When asked in the House of Commons whether the Department of Health had an estimate of the number of hours GPs will spend talking to patients about, the minister, Dr Dan Poulter, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department of Health, had no clear answer.  But there is, he said, “a patient information line which patients can call if they have questions, which will ease the burden on GP practices.”

There is a possibility that the scheme will prove to be breach of new EU privacy rules.

The costs of this scheme have not been finalised.  But the leaflet distribution will cost NHS England £1.2 million.

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NHS’s winter pressures: will GWH get some of the government’s new winter money?

In an exclusive story, the Health Service Journal (HSJ) says the government has found another £150 million to help ease this winter’s pressures on hospitals.

It is now clear the government is petrified that the NHS may face unsustainable pressures in the coming months – especially in already over-busy A&E departments.

The HSJ says this new money will be announced within days.  It will be on top of the £250 million already allocated and will go to help hospital trusts which, like the Great Western Hospitals Foundation Trust (GWH), got nothing from the original £250 million fund.

GWH applied with the Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for a share of the first £250 million. That money went to 53 CCG’s to support their local acute hospitals – the average amount was £4,170,000.

The money was allotted to trusts that had not coped well last winter or that are considered to be in such financial straits that they would not cope this winter. Some said the money was a reward for failure.

GWH got none of that £250 million and has been putting into place its winter planning using its own funds and financial assistance from CCGs.

During last winter GWH saw a ten per cent increase in people coming into its A&E department as well as a 6.7 per cent rise in emergency admissions.  This winter’s pressures are already being felt at GWH’s A&E department.

GWH’s bid for extra funding included extra spending on community health services, on end of life care, increased staffing in A&E and support for the timely discharge of patients.

As MNO has reported GWH have already recruited more nurses and midwives and a full re-design of their A&E department will be completed before Christmas.

Working with Wiltshire and Swindon CCGs, GWH have already put in place a number of steps to alleviate this winter’s pressures on staff and facilities.

They have invested £3.2 million in extra medical beds and doctors. And have employed three extra emergency medicine consultants – bringing the total up to nine consultants. And they continue to recruit more nurses.

Wiltshire’s community health services – run by GWH – now have Care Coordinators in each locality to help patients live well at home for longer and reduce unnecessary and unwelcome stays in hospital.

GWH have also launched an incentive scheme for nursing staff, midwives and health professionals like physios.  This will enable staff to earn extra pay for working extra shifts – reducing the use of agency staff who may not be familiar with the hospital or with patients.

A GWH spokesman explained: “Paying staff in this way is better value for money for the taxpayer as it’s more cost effective than using agency staff.  Our staff work incredibly hard 24/7, 365 days a year, often in challenging circumstances and this is an extra thank you to those who are willing to help out at our busiest times.”

It’s not just the number of people arriving at the front door services like A&E that cause problems.  It’s also pressures at hospitals’ back doors: patients who cannot be allowed leave hospital wards once their treatment is complete because they have nowhere appropriate to go.

These are called ‘Delayed Transfers of Care’ or DTOCs and they cost CCGs a great deal of money.  They used to be called ‘bed blockers’ - as though it was the patient’s fault.

Reducing the time patients wait to leave hospital involves close coordination with local authorities’ social care services who have to ensure patients – often the frail and elderly – go to an appropriate nursing home or rehab ward or can be cared for safely in their own home.

Oxfordshire CCG, which has had one of the worst DTOCs record in the country, has allotted more than a fifth of its £10 million extra winter funding to Oxfordshire Council to help reduce its costly level of DTOCs.

It is worth noting that Oxfordshire CCG identified 23 temporary schemes to alleviate winter pressures at their hospitals.  Some of these are to last six months.

Oxfordshire CCG aims to recruit skilled staff to fill more than 50 new full-time roles to work over the winter period – as well as an unspecified number of other extra nursing staff.  Whether they will be able to recruit this number in time and within budget will doubtless feature on their risk register.

But the scale and cost of winter measures in Oxfordshire, underlines the seriousness with which the NHS is facing the approaching cold weather.

GWH’s A&E or as they call it ED for Emergency Department:  Some days ago we published a story headlined “Twelve patients a day had to wait on A&E trolleys in great western hospital probe reveals.”  

This was a report of story first published in the Daily Mail.  MNO understands that GWH’s Freedom of Information response stated that “up to twelve patients” in a day had been waiting on trolleys in a corridor. 

This, by some sleight of hand, was changed in the published story to read “12 patients a day have to wait on trolleys in corridors in A&E” – clearly implying it happened every day.  

Having looked back at the wording of their FOI response, GWH have now issued another statement:

“The number of patients treated in ED can change greatly from one day to the next. We have never shut our doors and always do everything we can to treat and care for our patients using the space and resources we have at the time.”

“There are occasions when we have been extremely busy, this means we have asked patients to wait on a temporary trolley until a suitable bed is available. Any patient waiting on a trolley will have been assessed and will have a dedicated nurse caring for them and observing them until they are moved to a ward.”

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Take a ride around Maggie Bell’s patch to see how healthcare is changing in Wiltshire

Maggie Bell at Ramsbury SurgeryMaggie Bell at Ramsbury SurgeryFor evidence that healthcare in Wiltshire is changing all you need is an introduction to Maggie Bell.  She’s one of the Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) new Care Coordinators – there are 29 working across the county at a cost of £1.3 million a year.

She was the first to start work.  Since September she’s been based at Ramsbury Surgery and has responsibility for patients registered with the GPs’ surgeries at Ramsbury, Marlborough and Great Bedwyn.

She reports to a manager at Ramsbury surgery and to the leader of the community nursing team based at Savernake Hospital. She is employed by GWH and paid by them with funding from the CCG.

She has a list of 22 people she visits: “But it’s growing all the time.”  If there’s an obvious medical problem she will visit with the community matron from Savernake Hospital: “If someone has a social need but they also have a medical need, it’s better we both go on a single visit – people don’t like lots of people coming into their home.”

The CCG’s flagship policy is its Community Transformation plan which aims to bring health care closer to people’s homes, keep them out of hospital for longer and make sure they are safe when they leave hospital.  It is aimed particularly at the elderly, most vulnerable patients.

Maggie Bell is not a nurse.  Her training and experience has been in social care.  And her role is preventative – to keep people healthy and help them avoid issues like isolation and stress that can lead to illness especially in the elderly.

One of her many jobs is to monitor people once they have left hospital.  She has access to the GWH data base that tells her who has been discharged and she will then contact or visit those who are likely to be at risk to make sure they are doing well.

This is a sure way to prevent the all too frequent occurrence of quick re-admissions to hospital – especially of the elderly.
“The GPs love it – to be honest they think it’s an absolutely brilliant scheme.”

The now defunct Wiltshire Primary Care Trust established the county’s ground-breaking neighbourhood teams of nurses and physios. When the PCT was no longer allowed to provide services, the teams were transferred under contract to Great Western Hospital and will be run by them until April 2016.

In their Community Transformation Plan the CCG are taking the neighbourhood team idea to a whole new level – and are working closely with Wiltshire Council to develop this new way of working at community level. Across the county, they’re designing local care for 23 clusters each of about 20,000 people.

In this they are ahead of the field:  the government has ordered that from April 2015 a slice off the CCGs’ funding will go towards a £3.8 billion pooled budget for CCGs and councils to join up health and social care services in England – the much-talked about ‘integration’ of care.

This fund was called the Integration Transformation Fund – a descriptive title.  But the politicians have got at it and it is now called the Better Care Fund – an aspirational title.

Maggie Bell and her fellow care coordinators are the first part of the CCG’s Community Transformation Plan.  Among other initiatives still to come is a ‘rapid response’ service that will bring health and social care within one hour to support people in time of crisis and prevent ‘unnecessary’ hospital admissions.

Maggie worked for two years as team leader for the Marlborough area’s Leonard Cheshire Disability’s Help to Live at Home team – a Wiltshire Council scheme. Now she really feels she’s making a difference: “I have the added advantage of knowing the area, the social services and community health team.”

“I’m stopping people being unhappy – to be frank. It helps people keep healthy when they know someone cares – especially people who come out of hospital. It’s good for them to know someone’s there.”

Margaret RendleMargaret RendleMaggie took me with her to visit Margaret Rendle who’s over 80 and lives in Marlborough. He husband died very recently and suddenly. Her GP asked Maggie to see her because she was afraid Margaret was very isolated, had all the problems of coping with the bereavement and needed to get out of her house more.

And frankly, Margaret’s not at all happy.  She’s still in shock and not feeling too good in herself.

Maggie filling in that formMaggie filling in that formShe’s got bad arthritis in her hands, so Maggie fills in the huge Council form – “It’s as big as a book” – to get her council tax changed.  And Maggie takes a look at the carers’ log to make sure they’re coming as they should.

Margaret is desperate to keep out of hospital – worried what would happen to her partially disabled son.

Maggie Bell is going to phone her bank to ask about her husband’s will. She’s going to talk to her GP as Margaret wants to know why her husband died in hospital so suddenly.

And there’s a large bill for the carers her husband needed that’s making Margaret anxious and must be sorted out. Margaret is very relieved and grateful that Maggie is on her case.

Maggie & her essential carMaggie & her essential carAlthough they are such a new addition to the NHS’ armoury, the Care Coordinators are settling in well and getting on with their important job.  As Maggie puts it: “Things are going very well with all the coordinators – the commissioners are very pleased – like the GPs.”

Every month all the 29 Care Coordinators meet together for a forum – exchanging information about support charities and care agencies and go through a case study to see how they can do things even better.  And they probably moan a little about the mileage allowance!

They do a great deal of driving – especially in the most rural areas like Maggie’s.  Quite who picks up the carbon footprint for all that driving must remain another mystery of the complex restructuring of the NHS.

As other parts of the Community Transformation scheme come on line, the Care Coordinators jobs will change as they have more local elements to fit in with.   The aim is that by the end of 2015 the CCG’s new community system will be looking after many more of the vulnerable – who are most often the elderly – in their homes and keeping them out of hospital.

Care Coordinators are a first step in the plan. And Maggie's enthusiastic about what they can do: "I love my job."

[With thanks to Margaret Rendle and Maggie Bell.]


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Physio practice brings Hollywood-style foot treatment to Marlborough

Podiatrist Emma Ansell giving Karen Shields a Med-pedPodiatrist Emma Ansell giving Karen Shields a Med-pedA Marlborough physiotherapy practice is offering an exclusive Hollywood-style treatment for something that is walked all over every day – feet.

Clients from as far away as Bath and Gloucestershire are already coming to the Hughenden Yard practice for this new exclusive treatment, which has previously only been available in London.

Podiatrists – the new name for chiropodists – and salons usually concentrate on one thing: either foot health or foot beauty.

Now, James Hatt & Associates has combined both approaches in its new glamorous med-ped treatment.

The Medical Pedicure is given by a highly trained and qualified podiatrist. It involves a comprehensive health check and treatment of the feet followed by a pedicure.

But this goes even further than feet feeling and looking great. Many musculoskeletal problems, such as with knee joints and backs, can be caused by feet, and the early warning signs of some illnesses - such as the increasingly common diabetes and the number one cause of death, blocked arteries - can be spotted through foot examinations.

“Feet are important to health, so we thought: why not make it a luxurious experience? We want to encourage younger women in particular to have their feet pampered and their health checked at the same time,” said practice director, Amanda Hatt.

“We also didn't want to send clients away to a salon for the finishing touches of a pedicure, and perhaps not having such a good service as they would with our podiatrist.”

Karen Shields receiving her Med-ped from Emma AnsellKaren Shields receiving her Med-ped from Emma AnsellIn the hour long appointment, the med-ped offers a diabetic, neurological and vascular screening; a foot bath, foot scrub and foot mask; gets rid of the dreaded cracked heels in one treatment – with, unlike salons, the added hygiene security of medically sterile equipment – and nails cut and painted.

And feet are left looking like they belong on a movie star.

To offer this treatment, James Hatt refuses the bread and butter of most podiatrists, the fifteen minute toenail-cutting service.

“We would be doing our clients a disservice with such a short treatment. It's better to offer a proper, rounded consultation.” Amanda adds: “It may not the quickest way to way to grow this new part of the business, but it's the best way for our clients.”

Regular client Karen Shields, from Pewsey, pictured receiving a med-ped from Heath and Care Professions Council registered podiatrist Emma Ansell. “I came in for knee problems, and I've had physio, massage and podiatry.

“This time I've tried the med-ped. I love Emma's approach with a comprehensive overview of the problem. It's a long term solution rather than a quick fix.”

For more information visit or ring 01380 730473.

Reader offer: get a Hollywood-style med-ped treatment with James Hatt Associates. Pay for a podiatry treatment (£45)and upgrade to med-ped (normally £65) free of charge only with the coupon on this week’s Marlborough News Online newsletter. Not currently a newsletter recipient? Sign up for free today!

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