BMA and Refuge highlight medical record access concerns for survivors of domestic abuse

by BMA media team

BMA press release.

Location: England
Published: Tuesday 24 October 2023
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The BMA has teamed up with Refuge and other ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’ organisations to raise concerns about the safety and access to the medical records of domestic abuse survivors.

Since April 2023, GP practices across England have been instructed to grant access to patients' medical records through the NHS app and other online portals, and by the 31st of October, all GPs in England will be contractually required to provide patients with remote access to their medical records via the NHS app and website.

In a statement with Refuge and 20 other organisations, the BMA has highlighted concerns that accessibility to these records will have implications for survivors of domestic abuse, which could put them at greater risk.

Survivors of abuse are urged to contact their GPs and request that access to their information is removed. No appointment with your GP is needed and patients can ask the reception team or any other member of staff at the practice with access to records to do this.

As part of the ‘Violence Against Women and Girls’ group, the BMA is engaging with NHS England to voice concerns and identify measures to mitigate the risks for survivors using the app.  

The BMA has also recommended that GPs initially look to move forward on an opt-in basis if they have any anxieties. GPs can seek additional advice on specific dilemmas from the BMA’s medical ethics and human rights department, the GMC, or your medical defence organisation.

Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, Chair of the BMA GP Committee for England, said:

“For the majority of patients, access to their GP record on their smartphone will be a welcome development. However, for a significant number of patients, especially those members of our society who are most vulnerable - women, children and those lacking capacity - the forced implementation of this process is a cause for concern for us as GPs.

“For almost two years we have been engaged with the Department of Health and NHS England in highlighting GP’s anxieties. I worry for patients we frequently see, a parent whose abusive spouse may use sensitive clinical information to undermine legal cases of custody of dependents in the family courts, patients requesting covert contraception forbidden in their home or relationship, or those disclosing abuse from others who may have access to their smartphone. These are but a few examples causing GPs as data controllers to raise concerns about this flawed implementation.

“We would encourage any such patient to let their GP practice teams know if they wish to opt-out at the present time, or to not install the NHS app, until we have reached safe and practical agreements over where and how we can protect the most vulnerable and disenfranchised members of our society, with government and NHS leaders.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.