Hospital Dr News

New GMC guidance on confidentiality includes when breaches can be justified

The GMC has published revised, expanded and reorganised guidance on confidentiality for all doctors practising in the UK.

The guidance is designed to help doctors better understand their responsibilities when handling patient information in their everyday practice, and comes into effect from Tuesday 25 April 2017.

While the principles of the 2009 guidance remain unchanged, it now clarifies:

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

The GMC has also published a decision-making flowchart and explanatory notes to show how the new guidance applies to situations doctors may encounter and find hard to deal with, such as reporting gunshot and knife wounds or disclosing information about serious communicable diseases.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: “We know doctors want more support and guidance on some of the complexities of confidentiality, and so as well as the revised guidance we are also publishing some supporting explanatory notes.

“We will produce additional helpful materials for doctors when the guidance comes into effect in April.”

Defence body MDU advised doctors to familiarise themselves with the updated guidance. Dr Catherine Wills, MDU deputy head of advisory services, said: “Confidentiality is central to the relationship of trust between patients and doctors. Without assurances about confidentiality, patients may be reluctant to give doctors the information they need in order to provide good care.

“However, it is well accepted that a breach of confidentiality can sometimes be justified, legally and ethically, in the public interest. For example, when failure to do so may expose the patient or others to risk of death or serious harm.”

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