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Gateways guidance: 8. Confidentiality and disclosure

Applicants should be encouraged to disclose their impairment so that reasonable adjustments can be made. There is no legal duty to do this.

Application forms

  • Invite applicants to disclose their impairments, and say why they are being asked.
  • Make it clear that it will have no effect on the decision of interview panels - it is simply to:
    • give their requirements for interview
    • assess the need for reasonable adjustments to be made if a place is offered.

Some students already have confidence in declaring their impairment:

  1. ‘I have a relatively hidden disability (brittle bone disease). I have always declared my condition on any forms I have filled in which required me to do so.’
  2. Medical student

Medical schools should therefore be proactive in encouraging applicants to disclose an impairment. This might involve the following.

  • Ask applicants to declare their disabilities on application and enrolment forms.
  • Publicise the provisions made for disabled students, or provide opportunities for students to tell tutors or disability officers in confidence.
  • Define competence standards against which all applicants can measure themselves.
  • Ask students once they are on the course whether they need any specific arrangements because of a disability.
  • Explain to students the benefit of disclosure and how this information will be kept confidential.

Create a welcoming environment

It is important to ensure that the atmosphere and culture are open and welcoming so that disabled people feel safe to disclose an impairment or health condition. This might include the assurance that support is available for students who experience discrimination from hospital or primary care staff, patients or carers.

Confidentiality policy

Encouraging applicants to disclose an impairment or health condition requires a confidentiality policy to ensure that the information will not be misused, and to give applicants confidence in the system.

  1. ‘Many people with a mental illness do not regard themselves as disabled...If these students are to disclose their disability, the inclusion of mental illness needs to be spelt out. It needs to be made clear that disclosure is necessary so that support can be provided, and that they will not be penalised. Disclosure is much more difficult for mental health disabilities than for physical disabilities due to the stigma which unfortunately is still very prevalent.’
  2. Member of Doctors' Support Network

Where information on disabled students may come through different channels, there must be a suitably confidential means to bring the information together.

A disabled student has the right to ask that the existence or nature of their impairment or health condition is treated as confidential. In deciding whether it is reasonable to make an adjustment, the medical school must consider how far making the adjustment is consistent with a disabled person’s request for confidentiality. It is possible to share information with staff, with a disabled student's permission, that identifies the reasonable adjustment and not the impairment.

The school’s confidentiality policy should be stated and circulated to all applicants and staff. It should be made clear how the information will be used and treated, and what the consequences are of contravening the policy.