Confidentiality: good practice in handling patient information (2017)

This guidance came into effect on 25 April 2017

This guidance sets out the principles of confidentiality and respect for patients’ privacy that all doctors are expected to understand and follow. It also sets out the responsibilities of doctors for managing and protecting patient information.

Our core guidance, Good medical practice, makes clear that patients have a right to expect that their personal information will be held in confidence by their doctors.

This guidance outlines the framework for considering when to disclose patients’ personal information and then applies that framework to:

a. disclosures to support the direct care of an individual patient

b. disclosures for the protection of patients and others

c. disclosures for all other purposes.

Doctors must follow all our guidance: serious or persistent failure to do so will put their registration at risk.

Updates to the guidance

This guidance was updated on 12 October 2017. We updated paragraphs 67 and 68 to refer to the patient’s and the public interest in maintaining confidentiality, rather than patients’ and the public interest in maintaining confidentiality.


Read the guidance



Learning materials

Below you will find some learning materials to support the confidentiality guidance. 

We also have relevant case studies in Good medical practice in action (GMPiA) the GMC’s interactive case studies resource.

Key legislation factsheet


Developed with doctors and patients

We’re grateful to the hundreds of doctors, patients, individuals and organisations from across the UK who contributed to our engagement activities. Their input was vital and helped to shape the revised guidance.

Read about the challenges doctors face in practice and how our guidance can help them overcome them: Balancing confidentiality guidance for you and your patients by Professor Jonathan Montgomery.

Read how we listened and reacted to feedback in developing the guidance (pdf).

We engaged extensively with groups with ‘protected characteristics’ as part of our consultation process. Our Equality Analysis (pdf) documents the steps we’ve taken to comply with the public sector equality duty (Equality Act 2010).

The revised guidance is structured for easy use in practice. We’ve expanded, updated, and re-organised it to reflect the way doctors use information, focussing on:

  • Disclosures to support the direct care of an individual patient
  • Disclosures for the protection of patients and others
  • Disclosures for all other purposes

Read our ‘What’s Changed’ briefing (pdf).