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Your health and care records

What is meant by health record?

Health records

Wherever you visit an NHS service a record is created for you. This means medical information about you can be held in various places, including your GP practice, any hospital where you’ve had treatment, your dentist practice, and so on.

Tip

Since April 2015 all GPs should offer their patients online access to summary information of their GP records. To find out more about how to access medical records online or in paper see the section How to access your health records.

A health record (sometime referred to as medical record) should contain all the clinical information about the care you received. This is important so every health professional involved at different stages of your care has access to your medical history such as allergies, operations or tests. Based on this information, the health professional can make judgements about your care going forward. Find out more about different types of records.

Your health records should include everything to do with your care including x-rays or discharge notes. The data in your records can include:

  • treatments received or ongoing
  • information about allergies
  • your medicines
  • any reactions to medications in the past
  • any known long-term conditions, such as diabetes or asthma
  • medical test results such as blood tests, allergy tests and other screenings
  • any lifestyle information that may be clinically relevant, such smoking, alcohol or weight 
  • personal data, such as your age, name and address
  • consultation notes, which your doctor takes during an appointment
  • hospital admission records, including the reason you were admitted to hospital
  • hospital discharge records, which will include the results of treatment and whether any follow-up appointments or care are required
  • X-rays
  • photographs and image slides, such as those produced by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerised tomography (CT) scanner

Find out how long medical records are kept for

Types of health record

What is a Summary Care Record?

All the settings where you receive healthcare keep their own medical records about you. These places can often only share information from your records by letter, fax or phone. At times this delays information sharing which can affect decision making and slow down treatment. To help improve the sharing of important information about you, the NHS in England is using an electronic record called the Summary Care Record.

Your Summary Care Record contains important information from the record held by your GP practice and includes details of any medicines you are taking, any allergies you suffer from and any bad reactions to medicines that you have previously experienced. Your Summary Care Record also includes your name, address, date of birth and your unique NHS Number to help identify you correctly.

TipYou may want your GP to add other details about your care to your Summary Care Record. This will only happen if both you and your GP agree to do this. You should discuss your wishes with your GP practice.

Allowing authorised healthcare staff to have access to this information helps to improve decision making by doctors and other healthcare staff and has prevented mistakes being made when patients are being cared for in an emergency or when their GP practice is closed.

Access to your Summary Care Record is strictly controlled. The only people who can see the information is the healthcare team currently in charge of your care. They can only access your records via a special smartcard and access number (like a chip-and-pin card). Healthcare staff will ask your permission every time they need to look at your Summary Care Record. If they cannot ask you, e.g. because you're unconscious, healthcare staff may look at your record without asking you. If they have to do this the decision will be recorded and checked to ensure that the access was appropriate.

You can choose to opt out of having a Summary Care Record at any time. In that case, you need to let your GP practice know by filling in an opt-out form (PDF, 245.9kb). If you are unsure if you have already opted out you should talk to the staff at your GP practice. If you change your mind again simply ask your GP to create a new Summary Care Record for you.

What is meant by an Integrated Digital Record?

On a local level some Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have started to integrate patients’ health and social care records to improve the overall care they provide in their area and to ensure more joined up care is given to patients. This is called Integrated Digital records. Camden is one of the first CCG areas to introduce this. Find out more on the Camden’s CCG website

Other CCGs may offer similar schemes or entirely different ones. Visit your CCG's website or contact the CCG directly for more information.

Sharing data from your records across the NHS

Health and social care records can be used to improve social care, public health and the services provided by the NHS. Your health records can also be used:

  • to determine how well a particular hospital or specialist unit is performing
  • to track the spread of, or risk factors for, a particular disease (epidemiology)
  • in clinical research, to determine whether certain treatments are more effective than others

When health records are used in this way, your personal details are not given to the people who are carrying out the research. Only the relevant clinical data is given, for example the number of people who were admitted to hospital every year due to a heart attack.

TipBesides the data collected by hospitals the NHS has also started to collect similar information, at a local level, from GP practices to better plan services for patients. In the future this will expand to information about care provided in communities and care homes. You can find more detailed information about data sharing in the section The care.data programme.

Confidentiality

There are strict laws and regulations to ensure your health records are kept confidential and can only be accessed by health professionals directly involved in your care. There are a number of different laws that relate to health records. The two most important laws are:

Under the terms of the Data Protection Act (1998), organisations such as the NHS must ensure that any personal information it gathers in the course of its work is:

  • only used for the stated purpose of gathering the information (which in this case would be to ensure that you receive a good standard of healthcare)
  • kept secure

It is a criminal offence to breach the Data Protection Act (1998) and doing so can result in imprisonment.

The Human Rights Act (1998) also states that everyone has the right to have their private life respected. This includes the right to keep your health records confidential.

Page last reviewed: 07/04/2015

Next review due: 07/04/2017

Keeping your online health and social care records safe and secure

Guidance is available to help you understand what an electronic health and care record is, how you can access it, who you may want to share it with and how to perform these actions securely. This guidance was created by the Department of Health, working in collaboration with BCS, the Chartered Institute of IT, in 2013.

Download the patient guidance booklets:

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