This site is intended for health professionals only

One request in five for patient confidentiality advice prompted by police investigations

Over one call in five to the Medical Defence Union regarding patient confidentiality come from doctors seeking advice about disclosing patient information to the police.

Figures obtained by Pulse show that 22% of calls to the MDU regarding patient confidentiality refer to disclosing information to the police.

The MDU received 1,674 calls on the issue of confidentiality from doctors and GPs in the last six months, 376 of which were from medics concerned about handing over information to the authorities.

The MDU said the figures included cases of the police approaching GPs for information to help criminal investigations, and cases where GPs sought advice on reporting their concerns over a patient's vulnerability to the police.

The revalations come after the MDU warned GPs that police could demand information on patients suspected of being involved in the recent English riots.

The MDU has advised GPs that they can hand over information on patients to the police if there is a ‘public interest' and a patient is suspected of ‘crimes that threaten serious harm to public order'.

However, they added that GPs facing the dilemma should seek advice before handing over information to the authorities.

Dr Yvonne McCombie, MDU medico-legal adviser, said: ‘Doctors can justifiably disclose information about patients if it is in the public interest…Doctors need to use their judgment to weigh the seriousness of patients' actions against the potential damage to their trust of breaching their confidentiality which may perhaps deter them from consulting a doctor in future.

‘The GMC says that information can be disclosed if it is likely to assist in the prevention, detection or prosecution of serious crime. Meanwhile, the NHS Confidentiality Code of Practice says that breaching confidentiality can be justified in the case of suspected crimes that threaten serious harm to public order or involve substantial financial gain or loss but may not be warranted in cases of theft, fraud or damage to property where loss or damage is less substantial.'