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Make sure the father is indeed the legal guardian

I have had a request from the father of an adult patient for information relating to his son's visit to the surgery and his subsequent management. The patient is severely mentally disabled and the father claims he is the legal guardian. How do I stand about giving information to the father in this case?

You must obviously be sure that the person requesting the information is indeed the legal guardian and then be guided by your legal and professional duty to act in the best interests of your patient. Your knowledge of the specific situation should then point the way to the correct course of action.

Your question, however, raises some potentially very complex legal issues and you may well require specific legal advice from your medical defence organisation regarding not only the disclosure of confidential

information to the father but also the patient's consent to his management following the visit to your surgery.

It is important to bear in mind that nobody can give consent on behalf of an incompetent adult, although you may still treat such a patient if the treatment would be in their 'best interests'. This may include the wishes and beliefs of the patient when competent, their current wishes, their general well-being and their spiritual and religious welfare.

The relatives, carers and friends of a patient who has never been competent will generally be best placed to advise on the patient's needs and preferences.

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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