Editorial

Public support ‘patient passports’ with medical data all in one place

The Times Health Commission calls for a single digital system that allows any GP, NHS hospital, pharmacy or social care agency to access a patient’s medical information.

Posted 12 February 2024 by Christine Horton


Most people want their health information digitally stored in one place so that any doctor treating them can access their records no matter where they are, according to The Times Health Commission.

The lack of “joined up” data within the NHS is currently a huge source of frustration for patients and families.

Eight in ten people support the creation of “patient passports” that would provide a single system to keep track of medical records throughout a person’s life, and which could be accessed seamlessly across GPs, NHS hospitals, pharmacies and social care, said research.

The data would be accessible through the NHS App, and enable patients to view records, order prescriptions, pick up test results, see correspondence and contact doctors. The commission said that under a universal patient passport system, medical records could be stored on people’s phone or medical card, and pulled up on arrival at their hospital, GP surgery or pharmacy.

Presently there are “between 40 and 60” different types of electronic patient records within the NHS, the commission heard, while around ten percent of hospitals are entirely paper-based.

The proposal is the first of ten recommendations in the Times Health Commission Report, which is being published following a year-long inquiry. The commission, led by a panel of experts from across health and social care, spoke to more than 600 witnesses including senior doctors, hospital managers and politicians.

It concluded there is “an urgent need to overhaul outdated and fragmented systems that prevent data being shared freely between different parts of the NHS.”

YouGov polling for the commission shows 81 percent of the public back its key recommendation of NHS digital health accounts, called patient passports, with only 10 percent against. Eighty-nine percent said patients should automatically be allowed to access their own medical records.

A need for dramatic improvement in the way NHS uses data

The commission noted that there are similar systems already in place in Spain, Singapore, Estonia, Israel and Denmark.

Polling shows that 56 percent of the public agree that the convenience of being able to easily book appointments and access care outweighed any risk to the privacy or security of their medical records, compared to 22 percent who disagreed. Meanwhile 68 percent of the public would be happy for the NHS to allow other medical staff or clinicians to access their records.

The Times quoted Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and Times Health commissioner, who said: “At the heart of these recommendations is the need for a dramatic improvement in the way we use technology and data.

“The NHS has fallen behind on the way it uses data and technology, yet it will be impossible to meet the health challenges of tomorrow without a full commitment to use these tools. Embracing new technologies could transform the way the health system functions and would improve health in a more cost-effective way.”