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Practice dilemma: CCTV in the waiting room

Following theft and threatening behaviour, you are considering installing CCTV in the waiting room, but will this breach patient confidentiality? Our legal expert advises.

Any business installing or using a CCTV system for monitoring or recording images of the public will be bound by the Data Protection Act 1998.

The Information Commissioner published updated guidance on CCTV installation two years ago; this emphasises the importance of businesses considering alternatives to video monitoring wherever possible.

In a medical context, the GMC guidance on confidentiality will greatly restrict the usefulness of CCTV. The scenario here suggests that images might be shared with the police to catch the perpetrators of the thefts, or those using threatening behaviour. This would conflict with a doctor's duty of confidentiality unless it could be shown that there was a good reason in the public interest for releasing the recordings.

In practice, this means a 'serious' crime, such as assault, would need to be committed. Minor thefts would almost certainly fail to justify disclosure of the recordings.

A better solution to these issues might be to ensure a clear line of sight from the reception desk to all areas of the waiting room, installation of mirrors, or improved lighting. Dummy cameras might have a deterrent effect.

Any practices considering the installation of CCTV should ensure that they adhere to the Information Commissioner's guidance, and take expert advice where appropriate.

Chris Godeseth is a adviser at the Medical Protection Society

Waiting room