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Updated confidentiality guidance comes into force for doctors

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25 Apr 2017

Revised ethical guidance on confidentiality comes into effect for doctors

Confidentiality is at the heart of medical practice but it should not be a barrier to good care. That’s why in this publication we emphasise the importance of talking, and listening, to patients about what should happen to information about them.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council

From today all doctors practising medicine in the UK will be expected to follow revised, expanded and restructured General Medical Council (GMC) ethical guidance on confidentiality.

Confidentiality: good practice in handling patient information has been updated following an extensive consultation exercise, and is now more explicit than previously published guidance* about working with patients. It now clarifies:

  • The circumstances in which doctors can rely on implied consent to share patient information for direct care.
  • The importance of sharing information for direct care, recognising the multi-disciplinary and multi-agency context doctors work in.
  • The significant role that those close to a patient can play in providing support and care, and the importance of acknowledging that role.
  • The public protection responsibilities of doctors, including when to make disclosures in the public interest.

The refreshed GMC materials also include specific supporting information about situations involving patient confidentiality that doctors may find hard to deal with. These include reporting concerns to the DVLA, reporting gunshot and knife wounds and disclosing information about serious communicable diseases. Other practical guidance includes a decision-making flowchart and interactive case studies.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:

'Confidentiality is at the heart of medical practice but it should not be a barrier to good care. That’s why in this publication we emphasise the importance of talking, and listening, to patients about what should happen to information about them. We also clarify that confidentiality does not prevent doctors listening to the views of those close to a patient, when that might be helpful to the patient’s care.’

Confidentiality: good practice in handling patient information is available on the GMC’s website and via free smartphone ethical guidance app My GMP.

ENDS

Notes to editors 

*Previous GMC guidance on confidentiality was published in 2009. The principles of within that guidance have not been changed for this 2017 publication, but the guidance has been revised, expanded and restructured following an extensive consultation exercise. The consultation exercise has been described in this blog post by Professor Jonathan Montgomery.

Confidentiality is one of the most popular topics doctors proactively contact us about.

GMC guidance is reviewed regularly to take into account key changes to legislation, the expectations of patients, the medical profession and the wider environment.

The National Data Guardian has welcomed the GMC's revised confidentiality guidance.

The General Medical Council (GMC) is an independent organisation that helps to protect patients and improve medical education and practice across the UK.

We decide which doctors are qualified to work here and we oversee UK medical education and training.

We set the standards that doctors need to follow, and make sure that they continue to meet these standards throughout their careers.

We take action when we believe a doctor may be putting the safety of patients, or the public’s confidence in doctors, at risk.

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