New clause 14 - Medical records

Part of Armed Forces (Pensions and Compensation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:55 am on 26th February 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Shadow Minister, Defence 8:55 am, 26th February 2004

I, too, thank the Minister for responding so positively to the request to provide the leaflet, which I have been able to look through briefly. Bearing in mind the importance of the whole scheme, there is not what in financial services would normally be called a health warning on the front—there is no indication of the importance of seeking professional advice before making a decision. The leaflet suggests that more detailed material will be made available to assist with the decision, but, somewhere on the form, the importance of that decision should be made much clearer. I suggest that we should make it clear that people are recommended to take professional advice before making that decision.

On medical records, many of us have had cases in which we were aware of perhaps less than full co-operation in getting the available information. I preface these remarks by saying that I am assuming that medical personnel in the armed forces are subject to the same regulations in respect of the General Medical Council. The GMC, in giving its registration to all qualified medical professionals, has recently laid down not guidelines, but clear requirements.

I do not know whether the Minister or his officials can confirm whether all qualified medical personnel in the armed forces are required to follow the GMC's regulations as part of their registration. If they are, those regulations, which have recently been tightened significantly, would provide even more reinforcement than has been suggested is needed, both on patient access to records and the clarifying—indeed, the ownership—of those records. The regulations go on to such things as the completeness of records and whether they are comprehensible.

I do not know whether many hon. Members have tried to read any medical records other than their own, but they have a language and style all of their own. The GMC has made it clear that that has to stop and that medical records must be comprehensible to patients, who now have access to them. The use of a significant amount of shorthand—a number of initials, which are almost a code—is unacceptable.

I hope that the medical records that are being completed and compiled in the armed forces comply with the GMC's requirements. Legibility is another issue. Doctors and medical people are notorious for having illegible handwriting, but that is now not acceptable. There have already been a number of cases in which doctors have been reprimanded because of the state of the records that were made available to the GMC so that it could reach conclusions.

I am sure that the Minister and other Members will be aware that doctors are in the process of computerising their records generally. I hope that that computerisation takes place in the armed forces, too, and that the system will be compatible with that in the outside world. Notwithstanding those acknowledged members of the armed forces who require those records to take up cases, there is also the matter of all those who will go on to live a life after leaving the services. They will not necessarily be taking up cases, but they will nevertheless require those medical records to be complete and understandable so that they can be passed to their GP after their service. I do not know whether people will be given the records or certified copies, but in any case there needs to be a clear and timely system to ensure a smooth transition of armed forces records to the GP, or indeed any other doctor to whom the person involved might wish to pass them.

This is an important aspect of how medical records are dealt with, not least because they may be required for compensation cases and pensions. If a person comes out of the forces in his 40s, there may be a significant period over which he would want his records to be maintained external to the forces. I hope that the Minister can explain exactly how the scheme works currently and how it will work in future. I hope he can also confirm that the medical personnel in the armed forces will comply with GMC requirements.