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Protecting young people's confidentiality

Can you tell me if there is any guidance on the age from which we can refuse to give out results/medical information to a parent?

I had something in my mind that it was about 16.

There is no particular age stipulated for this. It all hinges around the concept of 'Gillick competence' and the question as to whether a young person is capable of providing valid legal consent.

This means that he or she has been given all of the relevant information and is mentally competent to understand all of that information and to make a reasoned judgment based on it.

Provided the young person gives this consent willingly, he or she is owed a duty of confidence in common law.

It is always advisable to suggest that the young person seeks the support and advice of parents and it is advisable to try to encourage parental involvement.

However, if a competent young person refuses to give explicit consent to share any sensitive personal data with the parents, you are obliged to respect their wish for confidentiality.

If you, or anyone else, tried to coerce them into permitting disclosure of data to the parents, then that consent would probably not be valid legally.

A recent case involving a young girl who had an abortion without her parents' consent or knowledge was probably determined on this basis. In the final analysis only a court of law can determine any particular case.

Many people believe it to be wrong to treat a young person without the parents' knowledge or consent, on the assumption that parents always act in the child's best interests and are there to support their children and guide their choices at all times.

Sadly there may be circumstances in which a parent would not be supportive of a young person's reasonable choices and could not be relied upon to act in the young person's best interests.

BMA ethical advice on confidentiality and young people under 16 suggests it is better for a young person to feel able to seek medical advice and treatment independently from a responsible professional, rather than to be denied access to treatment because of a fear of breach of confidence.

If medical treatment is in any way controversial, treating a young person without parental involvement and consent, except on the basis of very specific legal advice and the prior agreement of your medical defence organisation, would be foolish and very likely to lead to a legal challenge.

Dr Christine Dewbury, Wessex LMCs

Neither Pulse nor Wessex LMCs can accept any legal liability in respect of the answers given. Readers should seek independent advice before acting on the information concerned.

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