NHS care records will be viewable online, according to proposals published today that also insist the government is "abandoning" a top-down approach to hospital technology choices.
Patients will be able to access a range of data, from their own records with their GP and hospitals, to medical letters and personal care plans if they have a long-term condition.
The idea was originally revealed by the Conservatives a year ago, before the party came to power. At the time, they suggested the records would be held online by private companies, but no update has been given on the planned location of records in the new proposals. The Department of Health had not commented at the time of writing.
The NHS is making the records available as part of attempts to open up data to patients and give them more influence over their care, likening the availability and choice to shopping online and social networking. But news of the sensitive data being on the web is likely to be met with concerns over security and confidentiality. The government has not yet announced what level of security would be applied to the information.
Three million summary care records, a type of record aimed at emergency care settings, have already been created under the controversial £12.7 billion NHS National Programme for IT. But last week the Department of Health put a limit on the amount of data that will feature on them, insisting there would only be patients' demographic details, medications, allergies and adverse reactions.
According to two consultation papers released today, the government plans to enable patients to email their GP and allow them to compare doctors and treatment units nationally. They will then be able to choose and rate their treatment.
The Department of Health's director of informatics, Christine Connelly, said: "Building from a base of accurate care records, the Information Revolution will deliver more informed patients, more engaged professionals, more efficient organisations and, ultimately, improved outcomes."
The news comes as the department said it wanted to standardise the data on different types of care record, in consultation with medical professionals. It said that the "active involvement" of clinicians and other care professionals was "essential in developing information systems and requirements".
In one consultation, the department said it was "committed" to moving away from "a culture in which information has been held close and recorded in forms that are difficult to compare, to one characterised by openness, transparency and comparability".
And while the consultation made no direct reference to technology under the National Programme, it said the government was abandoning "an approach where we expect every organisation to use the same system" and moving "to one where we connect and join up systems".
Last month, the government announced it was effectively abandoning the National Programme, which gave hospitals no choice over which patient administration system they implemented. But in spite of the announcement, the supplier contracts remain in place for billions of pounds worth of systems and will have to be honoured.
The health department is one of the only departments to have its budget protected in Wednesday's Spending Review. But it warned that there would still be a tough budget in which to "pay for the information revolution" proposed in the consultation papers.
"Therefore, we must focus on driving efficiency and making each pound we spend work harder and smarter," it said. "Unleashing information will support this by helping people to care for themselves and by driving up the quality of service provision through increased transparency and innovation."