How your health records are stored

Most GP health records are a combination of paper records and computer records, created or stored on the practice's computer system. Your GP practice will hold your records as long as you're registered with them.

Who holds your health records if you're not currently registered with a GP practice 

NHS NSS Practitioner services stores GP health records for patients that aren't currently registered with a GP practice or who have died. There are regulations that require records to be held for a minimum amount of time before being destroyed.

More details of our retention periods.

Moving your health records

In Scotland, the transfer of your GP health records is managed by Practitioner Services who work on behalf of your NHS Board. GP practices return the records to us for patients who are no longer registered with them. If you've changed your GP practice, we send these records on to your new GP.

How are my previous records traced when I change GP practice?

Your new GP practice will ask for information about your identity, your previous address and previous GP practice when you register. It is important to provide this information accurately so that your records can be traced. Your GP practice will supply this information to Practitioner Services so that they can provide them with your previous records.

If you were previously registered with a GP in Scotland

Practitioner Services will find an entry for you on the Community Health Index (CHI) national database. When they update your CHI information, a request is sent to your old GP practice which asks them to send your records to us. We will then send them to your new GP practice.

If you've previously lived elsewhere in the United Kingdom

Practitioner Services work with other organisations to request your records. We send the identity data you provided to NHS Central Register Scotland. NHS Central Register can trace where you were previously registered. They make sure the appropriate authorities in England, Wales or Northern Ireland know you are now in Scotland and that your GP records should be sent to Practitioner Services.

How are my records sent?

Paper records are sent to and from GP practices through an approved courier contracted to the NHS.

If your records are held on the GP practice computer system, Practitioner Services can usually transfer them electronically to your new GP practice, if you've moved within Scotland. These are moved automatically to your new GP practice through a secure electronic route.

If your new GP practice cannot accept the electronic records, we print them onto paper for your new GP practice. These are sent in the same way as paper records to your new GP practice.

At present there is no mechanism to send electronic records between different parts of the United Kingdom. Currently we print these and send them as paper records.

Practitioner Services are currently working with NHS agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to develop this service.

Understanding access and timing for moving your records

Paper records are sealed in special bags for transportation. No one couriering the record knows whose record is in the bags. When we log that your records are being transferred, we use the information on the cover and do not read the clinical contents.

If your records are electronic and your new GP practice can accept these onto their computer system, they will be transferred through a secure electronic route. The records are encrypted on dispatch from your old GP practice. No one will have access to them.

If your new GP practice can't accept these onto their computer system, or if you are moving to another part of the United Kingdom, we then print your records to paper to allow them to be used by your new GP practice. When the records are printed out they come with a front cover and end page. We use this to tell that the records are complete and do not access the contents.

All our staff involved in the transfer of health records are subject to the strict legal regulations covering the disclosure and confidentiality of patient information.

How long will my records take to move?

Practitioner Services aims to transfer paper records between GP practices within six weeks of registration. In most cases the transfer time within Scotland is much less than this.

If your GP practice requires your previous records as a clinical priority, they can make an urgent request for them. These requests are treated as a priority and in most cases the records are transferred within two days.

If your records are electronic, and they can be accepted onto your new GP practice computer system, they'll normally be transferred within two days of your old practice agreeing to release them.

Practitioner Services uses the Community Health Index to keep track of those records that have been received and those that are still outstanding. If your records have not been received within six weeks we will issue additional requests to your old GP practice.

Further information about transferring your health records

Practitioner Services will not routinely trace health records from, or forward records to, health care providers in countries outwith the United Kingdom.

If you are returning to the United Kingdom, or your last registration with a GP practice was cancelled your records may be held in storage. If they are we will trace these through our records or NHS Central Register Scotland when you next register with a GP practice.

If we have been advised that you have been in HM Forces, your civilian records will have been kept in storage during your period of service. If you came under the care of a Service Medical Officer, your record would have been transferred on posting. These will be traced through the Community Health Index or NHS Central Register Scotland when you next register with a GP practice.

There are regulations that require records to be held for a minimum amount of time before being destroyed.

Community Health Index

Practitioner Services uses the NHS Scotland national patient database to keep a note of the GP practice that a patient is registered at. Other non-clinical information is also stored, eg patient name, date of birth, address and GP details.

The database is called the Community Health Index (or CHI). The unique index number generated for each patient is called the CHI number and this number is used throughout NHS Scotland to accurately identify patients.

The information is used to manage the transfer of medical records, make payments to GP practices for medical services provided to patients, and to issue medical exemption certificates and prescription pre-payment certificates.

NHS Central Register Scotland

NHS Central Register is part of National Records of Scotland. This organisation provides a range of services to the NHS.

These include issuing NHS numbers and keeping a record of the NHS Board area that a patient lives in.

It communicates with similar organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland when patients move between countries in the United Kingdom.

For further information visit the NHS Central Register website.

Retention Periods

If you're no longer registered with a GP practice, Practitioner Services stores your GP health records. The length of time we keep the records depends on the reason the records are being stored. These are set by our minimum retention periods and are shown below. When the retention period has passed, the records are destroyed.

If you are going to live abroad and require a copy of your records, you can apply to your GP practice for this prior to embarking. If we hold your records you can apply by contacting one of our Regional Offices. This service may incur a charge.

Reason for storing Retention Period
Embarked (Patients no longer resident in the United Kingdom) 6 years or until the patient reaches 25 years of age
Untraced (Registration with GP cancelled) 6 years or until the patient reaches 25 years of age
Removed at GP or Patient Request Retain for lifetime of patient or 3 years after death
Serving in HM Forces Retain for lifetime of patient or 3 years after death
Prisoners Retain for lifetime of patient or 3 years after death
Deceased 3 years after death

Last updated:
28 February 2024