Everyone working for the NHS has a legal duty to keep information about you confidential and adheres to a Code of Practice on protecting patient confidentiality. Similarly, anyone who receives information from us is also under a legal duty to keep it confidential. All information concerning patients is confidential, from the most sensitive diagnosis to the fact of having visited the surgery or that a patient is registered at the practice. A breach of confidentiality constitutes gross misconduct and may result in that member of staff’s dismissal, subject to the provisions of the practice’s disciplinary procedure and could lead to disciplinary action being taken against the doctor by the General Medical Council.
Therefore, please note that we are not authorised to discuss your medical care with anyone other than you or your legal guardian. Also, please do not ask our staff questions related to your medical care when you see them around town.
We appreciate that sometimes you may get frustrated when a receptionist is unable to confirm whether your husband, wife or child has an appointment or has finished their appointment, but the reason for this is to protect your confidentiality. If the spouse or parent has deliberately not been told about an appointment but has a hunch that they want to check out, it would be very wrong of us to have breached the patient’s confidentiality. We assume that no one else knows whether a patient has an appointment.
The reason for such a strict code of confidentiality in relation to patients is that in general practice, staff are in possession of, or have access to, personal health information about individuals. This must remain confidential unless the patient provides informed consent for its release. In a limited number of circumstances the doctor responsible for the patients care may decide that certain information should be disclosed without consent. This would be justified, for example, in cases where disclosure was in the patients interest, but it was impossible, or medically undesirable, to seek his or her consent. Another example would be a situation where the doctor decided that he or she had an overriding duty to society to disclose information because a serious crime had been, or was very likely to be, committed. However, such rare decisions are the doctor’s and under no circumstances may staff make a decision to disclose patient information.
Patients under 18
The duty of confidentiality owed to a person under 18 is as great as the duty owed to adults. A young person of any age can give a valid consent to treatment or examination provided he or she is considered to be competent to make the decision. At the age of 16 there is a presumption that the patient is competent to give a valid consent, but that can be at an earlier age, depending on the doctor’s opinion. Up to the age of 18, where the person lacks capacity, a person or local authority with parental responsibility can give consent on behalf of the patient. In some circumstances, the courts will give consent to treatment and/or examination.