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Practices must either get patients' express consent before revealing information to PCTs during quality visits or anon-ymise all data, the Medical Defence Union is advising.

Dr Matthew Lee, medico-legal adviser for the defence body, said if GPs could not anonymise data they must give patients enough information on which to base a decision over whether to give consent.

This must include the reasons for the disclosure, the likely consequences of it and who the information will be given to.

'If a patient withholds consent, or it cannot be obtained, disclosures may only be made where they are required by law or can be justified in the public interest,' said Dr Lee.

The advice has come in advance of GPC guidance on the issue. Negotiators have said it will take weeks for them to get definitive legal opinion.

Dr Lee said practices must also ensure they inform patients how anonymised information about them would be used.

'Some practices might choose to tell patients through practice leaflets and notices,' he said.

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