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GP confidentiality fear at child record checks

A national scheme to improve child protection services is putting patient confidentiality and the doctor-patient relationship at risk, GPs are warning.

GPs in England and Wales are being asked to give Healthcare Commission inspectors access to children's notes as part of Joint Area Reviews of children's services.

Ten practices in each local authority area will be approached by inspectors for the reviews, which began in November and aim to improve co-ordination between education, social care and health.

The commission said it would issue GPs with consent forms and would not look at notes if consent was refused by either carers or the children.

But GPs claimed this has not been made clear by the commission and criticised the consent letter as 'threatening and incomprehensible'.

Steve Mercer, chief executive of Avon LMC, said he was appalled the same letter was being sent to both carers and children as the language was too 'adult'.

The letter is also headed with the logos of organisations including the police, prisons, Ofsted and court services.

Mr Mercer said: 'These letters are to be sent to youngish children ­ 12 and 13 years old. Teenagers are a perishing mess, they are going to go ape when they get this.'

The exercise could potentially damage the doctor-patient relationship, he added, as children would be concerned private information could go to a third party ­ such as the police or parents.

The BMA said GPs should refuse access to records unless the commission 'provided clear evidence of the legal basis for their request', such as a court order or a section 60 'waiver'.

A spokeswoman said: 'Without such evidence, GPs should not release this information.'

The commission said the records would only be seen by its inspectors and would remain confidential.

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