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Published On: October 25, 2021 | Blog | 0 comments

The Government wants increased access to your medical records

Access to confidential medical records is always a controversial issue. The new  Policing Crime and Sentencing Bill 2021 seeks to expand the level of disclosure to police but it is a part of the bill that is perhaps not getting the attention from patients it deserves.

A patient’s right to confidentiality with medical records is paramount but the reality is that the law already allows police and others access in limited circumstances. These in essence are where adults or children who are known or considered to be at risk of, or to have suffered, abuse or neglect.

The GMC provides guidance on a range of issues including ” Confidentiality: good practice in handling patient information” where the following paragraphs  detail what is required.

Para 17

You must disclose information if it is required by statute, or if you are ordered to do so by a judge or presiding officer of a court (see paragraphs 87 – 94).

Para 18

You should satisfy yourself that the disclosure is required by law and you should only disclose information that is relevant to the request. Wherever practicable, you should tell patients about such disclosures, unless that would undermine the purpose, for example by prejudicing the prevention, detection or prosecution of serious crime.

Para 19

Laws and regulations sometimes permit, but do not require, the disclosure of personal information.8 If a disclosure is permitted but not required by law, you must be satisfied that there is a legal basis for breaching confidentiality (see paragraph 9). You must also be satisfied that the other relevant requirements for disclosing information are met (see paragraph 10).

There is further GMC guidance about disclosure to the police when it is in the public interest to do so but this is in line with their legal duty of confidentiality. This involves careful judgement about what to share to satisfy the intended purpose, striking a balance between individual and community rights.

Both the GMC and GPs have voiced serious concern over the Government’s new Policing Crime and Sentencing Bill 2021.  The bill will give police powers to force GPs to disclose more patient information without necessary safeguards. In doing so it risks undermining the relationship between patients and their medical practitioners.

The bill states that people must comply with a police request for information disclosures. The police can request “such information as may be specified in the request” of a number of bodies including but not limited to specified authorities for that area . This includes CCGs and local health boards.

Further it states that a “person who is requested to supply information under [this requirement] must comply with the request.”

It does state that disclosure of information which “would contravene the data protection legislation” is not required, but the lack of clarity between the two provisions is obvious. It should be obvious that GPs in particular are not expects in legal interpretation and faced with a determined police request might not be able to ascertain what they can refuse to disclose.

The Bill also gives the home secretary “power to authorise collaboration” with specified authorities of a local area: in short for the provision of confidential documents.  The aim stated is to prevent and reduce serious violence in a prescribed area but this is a somewhat vague aim and open to significant differences in interpretation.

Whilst the medical and nursing professions are raising concerns, largely those most affected (the public) appear to have little knowledge of proposals.

It is also important to note that this comes shortly after the government was forced to delay (but not cancel) the General Practice Data for Planning and Research scheme which was due to start in September. This scheme allowed for technically non identified data  to be collated about a GP’s patients. There has always been some form of collation of general information under the General Practice Extraction Service (GPES). The plan was to update and expand the level of data collected and third party use of same.  This meant it could be provided to private health care companies.

Medical records are hugely confidential documents which include the most sensitive and personal information.  Reasonable use by medical and nursing practitioners for the provision of health care is vital.  Disclosure to the police or because of the Home Secretary’s intervention must be approached with caution. Provision is already there and practitioners understand their roles and responsibilities to state and patient. Disclosure to third parties for different reasons, some economic and some perhaps not made clear is a step that should be considered carefully.

The current Policing Crime and Sentencing bill 2021 will impact on those issues and patients may not be aware of the issues raised.  It is important that people understand what is being proposed and make decision on whether to support or not as a result.

Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*

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