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Is there a future for GP premises ownership?

I have been asked to provide confidential medical data to the probity officer of the local patient services agency to check my patient's exemption from ophthalmic testing charges. I have been sent a form signed by the patient giving consent to disclosure of data by or to the Inland Revenue or local authority, but there is no mention of a doctor in this consent. The letter states 'the checking has been agreed by the local medical committee' and I am very surprised that you have approved this. What is your comment on this?

I would like to assure you that the LMC does not agree to any GP disclosing confidential medical information for this purpose, unless he or she has the patient's legally valid consent to do so. Doing so would be against all legal and ethical guidelines.

Breaching confidentiality in this way may be justified only if it is overwhelmingly in the public interest and it is not practicable to obtain the patient's consent. While the prevention of fraud within the NHS could be deemed to be substantially in the public interest, it is clearly not impracticable to seek the patient's consent to disclosure at the time of testing.

This is an official NHS form and Wessex LMCs have pointed out this issue of consent to the services agency in the past. We have again asked them to remedy this by drawing it to the attention of the appropriate authority. We have also asked them to remove the statement relating to LMC approval as this indicates quite incorrectly that we have approved an unnecessary breach of confidentiality.

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.

How 'free' must we be with our information?

Our PCT has informed us we must minute all our practice meetings as we may be required to provide all of the details if these are sought under the Freedom of Information Act. Much of our discussion is about the financial and business affairs of the practice which we would not wish to share. Are we obliged to do so?

Commercially or personally sensitive information is covered by an exemption from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Since all GPs effectively run a private business, much of the content of a practice meeting could be deemed to be commercially sensitive. This is increasingly the case in relation to the new contract and with regard to the Government's intention of introducing more and more commercial providers of general medical services. For example, your pharmacy plans would be of commercial interest to a pharmacy planning to move into the area and your plans for enhanced services could well be of interest to a commercial provider.

It would probably be acceptable to designate at least part of your practice meetings as 'confidential business meetings'. If asked for information under the Act you would be obliged to disclosure that you hold regular meetings to discuss confidential practice business, but that the minutes of this confidential meeting, or part of the meetings, are covered by an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.

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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