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Confidentiality: Good practice in handling patient information (GMC 2017)

The GMC’s revised confidentiality guidance comes into effect today, 25 April 2017. The Guidance is detailed and the revised formatting, including a new flow chart to support decision-making, should be of assistance to practitioners and to those advising them.

The Guidance is supported by a suite of explanatory guidance dealing with specific topics of interest including fitness to drive and serious communicable diseases.

The Guidance deals with disclosure under three key headings:

  1. Disclosures to support the direct care of an individual patient
  2. Disclosures for the protection of patients and others
  3. Disclosures for secondary purposes

The Guidance distinguishes between those scenarios where a practitioner may be subject to a legal requirement to disclose information and those where the doctor will need to exercise their own judgment to determine whether the conditions for disclosure are met. Whilst the Guidance will be of assistance to practitioners it recognises that there will be times when practitioners should seek independent advice before determining whether to make a disclosure.

In addition to summarising relevant legal principles which have been in place for some time the Guidance introduces some new professional obligations:

  • to tell an appropriate authority when a patient who lacks capacity may be experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect is extended to cover all forms of serious harm
  • to have knowledge of information governance that is appropriate to their role
  • for doctors who are data controllers to understand and meet their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act 1998
  • for doctors who are responsible for managing or recruiting staff to ensure that they are suitably trained and that contracts of employment contain appropriate obligations in relation to confidentiality and data protection

The Guidance expressly refers to doctors’ duties to protect and promote the health of patients. This duty will be a factor to be considered in determining whether to make disclosures for the protection of patients and/or others.

Future changes

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in a little over twelve months. The GMC’s Guidance is likely to require some amendments in light of the changes which will result, including a strengthening of the requirements for explicit consent and the abolition of charges for subject access requests.

You can read our in-depth review of the Guidance by clicking here.

The revised Guidance document can be read by clicking here.

For more information or guidance, please contact:

Stewart Duffy
Partner and Solicitor
T. 0207 227 7418


This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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