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Police are demanding records for a patient held in custody

One of our patients has been taken into police custody on suspicion of committing a serious offence and the police are demanding the medical records. Should I give them the original records or a copy?

Unless your patient has given informed consent to disclosure you have a legal and professional duty of confidentiality, unless the police have a court order compelling you to provide the information or disclosure could

be justified as being overwhelmingly in the public interest.

While your patient is in custody he is no longer a threat to the public and the police could easily acquire a court order if they believed it essential to have access to his medical records.

Revealing his entire past medical history could well be prejudicial to your patient's rights and your professional duty is to act in your patient's best interests, unless there are overriding concerns.

In the event that you decide the police may have access to the contents of his medical records, a copy may not be adequate for their purposes and could involve an unacceptable delay. It would be reasonable on this occasion to let them have the original notes, provided they are returned to you as soon as possible and returned immediately if the patient is released as they may well be required for his continuing care.

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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