In general, medical information is treated as strictly confidential, what you tell us in the consultation is between you and us. In particular you should be reassured that we will not divulge any information to your friends, resident tutors, academic departments or parents without your permission.
We work under various ethical and legal obligations to safeguard confidentiality. The primary codes of conduct with regard to confidentiality are laid down by the professional bodies of doctors and nurses, which in turn also apply to our support staff. The Caldicott Principles govern the protection and sharing of confidential patient information between health professionals. The Data Protection Act lays down the law about confidentiality with particular regard to holding and processing electronic information. And Article 8 of the Human Rights Act  giving you ‘the right to respect for private and family life’ is actually wide ranging and in our context forbids the unjustified disclosure and misuse of private information.
However, it may be in your interest for information to be shared. For example you may ask us to write to your department to explain how ill health has caused absence or impaired your academic performance. Sometimes when we ask you to manage your illness at home it can be a good idea for your friends or resident tutor to know you are unwell and keep an eye on you and call for help if necessary. And of course worried parents are always ringing up to discuss the well-being of their precious offspring!
In all these cases we would always need your request or permission to divulge any information. Parents in particular can feel frustrated that we are being officious by not discussing your health with them but we have to remind them of our duty of confidentiality to all young people which becomes pretty well absolute after the age of 16. The way forward of course is to get your permission by letter fax telephone or email to talk to your parents and only to proceed if you are happy.
We assume you are happy for us to share information when we refer you to a hospital specialist, physiotherapist, dietician etc. In this case we are still mindful of our obligations discussed in the first paragraph above. In particular the Caldicott principles apply, the minimum information is forwarded securely to the appropriate person on a need-to-know basis. And of course all the people receiving the information are in turn bound to keep it confidential by the same principles.
Unfortunately, the whole area of confidentiality and protecting and sharing private medical information is very complex. Your private medical information may be used more widely than you think and in certain cases we have a legal duty to disclose or report your information.
Sharing & Protecting Private Medical Information
The whole area of private medical information confidentiality is very complex. There is a direct tension between protecting your information but also sharing it appropriately – information exchange between doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, dieticians, psychologists etc is the life blood of the National Health Service. But we may also have to share information more widely with non-clinicians. Everyone handling your information has a legal duty to keep it confidential and share it appropriately according to established principles. You should note that most complaints from patients and their relatives to the NHS are about failure to communicate and share information rather than about breaches of confidentiality.
Examples of legal obligations to share medical information include:
- Registration of births
- Notification of infectious diseases such as meningitis, mumps, food poisoning
- Release of records demanded by a court order
We may use some of your information for other reasons; for example, to help us protect the health of the public generally and to see that the NHS runs efficiently, plans for the future, trains its staff, pays its bills and can account for its actions. Information may also be needed to help educate tomorrow’s clinical staff and to carry out medical and other health research for the benefit of everyone. As far as possible, the information is anonymised.