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GPs increasingly caught up in family disputes over children’s medical records

The Medical Protection Society has warned GPs not to get embroiled in family disputes, after receiving a record number of phone calls from GPs asking for advice on how to deal with ‘warring parents’ and ther childen’s medical records last year.

The defence body said it now receives one phone call every other day from GPs seeking advice on the matter - a total of 179 calls last year - and that it expects the number to continue to grow.

The MPS said separated parents get caught up in disputes over their children’s care, with the most common request for advice relating to circumstances where an estranged father seeks access to their child’s records following an acrimonious split with the child’s mother.

UK law states that the mother of the child has parental responsibility and therefore a right of access to their records. However, a partner’s access to a child’s records can be less straightforward. In total, the MPS has received 800 calls from GPs seeking advice on this area in the last five years.

Richard Stacey, medico-legal advisor at the MPS, said: ‘Calls from GPs concerned about separated parents having access to children’s records are now among our most common. Access to a child’s records can be a contentious point for separated parents and it has the potential to raise all kinds of issues relating to parental rights and the GP’s obligations. We received a record number of calls last year and expect that this will continue to rise.’

‘The interests of the child are paramount at all times. In most cases the request for access is well-intentioned and reasonable, but it is important that all requests for access to a child’s records are dealt with fairly and in line with the relevant professional guidance and legislation. When disclosing information, GPs must make sure that the person making the request has parental responsibility. They must be careful to withhold any information in the records relating to identifiable third parties, or that could be harmful to any parties. Consideration should also be given to whether or not it is appropriate to obtain the child’s consent before disclosing information.’

‘As children get older, their own understanding matures. The right to make a decision shifts from parent to the child when the child has sufficient maturity to be capable of making up his or her own mind and their consent should usually be sought prior to disclosing their records. It is vital that GPs do not become embroiled in any family disputes, although this can be especially difficult when both parents are patients at the practice.’