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Confidentiality and disclosure

  1. 150. Medical schools should be aware of the importance of information storage and confidentiality issues. In some cases, it may be appropriate to keep certain documents separate from a student’s file and use cross-reference markers. Medical schools must comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 to protect the confidentiality of students.
  2. 151. Medical schools should also make clear in their public documents and on their websites that personal information may be passed to other organisations, including the GMC, other medical schools, foundation schools or postgraduate deaneries, for example, if a student receives a written warning or a sanction.
  3. 152. Medical schools must have clear guidelines on the disclosure of information in situations where a student’s fitness to practise has raised concern. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has given this advice:
  4. ‘The Data Protection Act 1998 does not represent a complete barrier to disclosure, rather it would allow it where it is necessary and proportionate and where certain conditions have been met. Where there is a real issue about a student’s fitness to practise and where this represents a risk to patients or members of the public then disclosure would seem to be justified’ (correspondence from the ICO, 2006).
  5. 153. The ICO has also indicated that when fitness to practise concerns are raised, ‘a balancing decision would need to be made between the rights of the individual student and the likelihood of a real risk to the public’ (correspondence from the ICO, 2008). This will have implications for the responsibilities of, for example, occupational health practitioners, teachers, trainers, personal tutors and students.
  6. 154. Furthermore, the ICO says all students should be informed that, in addition to any other purposes for which their personal data may be used, information may also be shared with medical and educational supervisors in circumstances where it is clear there would be a likelihood of real risk to the public if that information was not disclosed. This should be supported by clear, agreed procedures for sharing information between medical schools and other organisations.
  7. 155. Medical schools should make sure there are transparent and appropriate processes that will allow GPs or healthcare providers to raise concerns about medical students, if necessary. For example, where locally applicable, it may be appropriate to use the occupational health service, student support services, or a named academic or administrator as the first point of contact. Any exchange of confidential medical information should be carried out in the interests of protecting patients and the public, and preferably with the knowledge and consent of the student in question. For more information, see the GMC’s guidance, Confidentiality.