Working with doctors Working for patients

Review of our confidentiality guidance

What’s happening with the review?

Confidentiality is central to the trust between doctors and patients. Patients have a right to expect that information will be kept in confidence by their doctors. But confidentiality is not absolute and doctors need to strike a balance between protecting confidential patient information and sharing it appropriately.
This can be a difficult balance to get right and confidentiality is one of the main topics that doctors, patients and others ask us for advice about.

Our current Confidentiality guidance was published in 2009. Since 2014, we have been carrying out a detailed review to make sure that our guidance on this important aspect of medical practice is clear, helpful, relevant to doctors’ needs and compatible with the law throughout the UK.

That review is now almost complete. Subject to Council’s approval, the revised guidance will be published in January 2017, and come into force in April 2017.

The revised guidance will be available online and in paper format. We will also make available new and updated case studies and other supporting materials to help doctors navigate and use the guidance.
Doctors should continue to follow our current Confidentiality guidance until the revised version comes into force.

During the review

In the early stages of the review we gathered information from a range of sources to help us to redraft the guidance. We:

  • looked at the type of enquiries that we receive about confidentiality-related issues
  • ran surveys seeking feedback from doctors, patients and organisations representing them
  • commissioned a literature review looking at patient and public attitudes to confidentiality
  • held two roundtable events for patients, to explore their views and expectations about how and why their personal medical information might be disclosed.

From November 2015 to February 2016 we held a public consultation on revised drafts of the core confidentiality guidance and explanatory statements. The consultation consisted of:

  • targeted consultation questionnaires on the text of the guidance and the issues covered
  • direct engagement with doctors, patients, carers and key policy stakeholders
  • research by Ipsos MORI (pdf) exploring patient and public attitudes towards particular issues in the draft guidance.

The process of redrafting the guidance both pre- and post- consultation was overseen by a task and finish group whose members provided expert input from a range of legal, medical, health, social care and patient perspectives. You can find a list of members here (pdf).

A detailed account of the review process will be published alongside the guidance.

If you have any questions about the review, please contact the project team.