Working with doctors Working for patients

 

Introduction

Two police officers have come to Dr Peters' clinic and asked the receptionist for a list of all the patients who attended the clinic the previous Monday. Dr Peters has come out to reception to see if he can help.

(The story so far...)

Dr Peters, who works in a sexual health clinic, has to decide whether or not to disclose confidential information

Dr Peters

Dr Peters

Good afternoon gentlemen. My receptionist tells me you're after a list of the patients seen here on Monday, is that right? Do you have a court order for the release of the information?

Police

Police Officer

Not as yet, Doctor. We've received reports of a serious assault that took place outside this clinic on Monday night. We understand that a gang of youths were verbally abusing a young man, a Mr M in your waiting room and, when he left your clinic, this gang was waiting for him outside. They followed him to the car park where a serious assault took place, culminating in the gentleman requiring hospital treatment.

Dr Peters

Dr Peters

I see. And do you have a description of the young man that you're looking for?

Police

Police Officer

Not a very detailed one I'm afraid...the main suspect's face was obscured by his hood and sunglasses but Mr M described him as mixed-race, just under 6 foot tall, late teens to early twenties, slim build.

Dr Peters

Dr Peters

Well that could be any number of our patients. Do you realise how many people come to this clinic in a typical day?

Police

Police Officer

Well, Dr Peters if you can just give us the names of those patients we can check to see if any of them are already known to us, and take it from there.

What should the doctor do...? (Select A,B or C)

A

Arrange for the list of patients to be given to the police since a serious crime has been committed?

B

Refuse to give the list to the police because it would be a breach of those patients' confidentiality?

C

Insist that the police come back with a Court Order for the release of the information?

Dr Peters

See what the doctor did

Dr Peters explained to the police officers that the information they were asking for was both extensive and extremely sensitive, and that patients - particularly those attending a sexual health clinic - needed to have faith that the clinic would not disclose their personal information without serious consideration. Dr Peters asked the police officers to come back with a court order for the release of the information or, alternatively, a more accurate description of the main suspect so that the search could be narrowed and the list of names reduced.

References

21. You must disclose information if ordered to do so by a judge or presiding officer of a court. You should object to the judge or the presiding officer if attempts are made to compel you to disclose what appears to you to be irrelevant information, such as information about a patient's relative who is not involved in the proceedings. You should also tell the judge or the presiding officer if you think disclosing the information might put someone else at risk of serious harm.

22. You must not disclose personal information to a third party such as a solicitor, police officer or officer of a court without the patient's explicit consent, unless it is required by law or can be justified in the public interest. You may disclose information without consent to your own legal advisors.

23. In Scotland, the system of precognition means there can be limited disclosure of information in advance of a criminal trial, to both the Crown and defence, without the patient's explicit consent. The disclosure must be confined solely to the nature of injuries, the patient's mental state, or pre-existing conditions or health, documented by the examining doctor, and their likely causes. If they want further information, either side may apply to the court to take a precognition on oath. If that happens, you will be given advance warning and you should seek legal advice about what you may disclose.

(Confidentiality: good practice in handling patient information, paragraphs 90-94)