- You must treat information about patients as confidential. This includes after a patient has died.10.
You must treat information about patients as confidential. However, The GMC document Confidentiality provides guidance on disclosures required by law and discusses circumstances in which disclosures may be in the public interest but individual consent is not forthcoming. If in exceptional circumstances you feel there are good reasons why you should pass on information without a patient’s consent or against a patient’s wishes, you should follow this GMC supplementary guidance as well as that from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and be prepared to justify your decision. You should make every effort to explain your position to the patient. (You may also wish to consult your medical indemnifier.)
Health data that are required for example as part of a health surveillance programme or to make decisions of health and safety policy should be suitably anonymised, to ensure that the details of named individuals cannot be identified.
You must ensure the confidentiality of the medical records you hold on patients. You must also ensure that team members understand and respect the requirement to preserve confidentiality of information held on patients. You must:
- ensure that medical records are stored and transferred safely and securely;
- protect against improper or accidental disclosures;
- ensure compliance with all relevant legislation (e.g. Access to Medical Reports Act 1988, Access to Health Records Act 1990, Data Protection Act 1998);
- keep personal information, including medical information, confidential, releasing such information only with the individual’s informed consent or when required by law or overriding public interest.
For further guidance, see Ethics Guidance for Occupational Health Practice.
You must ensure that managers understand the constraints on disclosure of personal health information imposed by the patient’s entitlement to confidentiality. One abiding principle is that employers are entitled to advice about an individual’s fitness for work, but are not entitled to diagnoses or specific clinical details without the prior informed consent of the employee and a genuine need to know.
- You must support patients in caring for themselves to empower them to improve and maintain their health. This may, for example, include:
- advising patients on the effects of their life choices and lifestyle on their health and well-being
- supporting patients to make lifestyle changes where appropriate.
- You must explain to patients if you have a conscientious objection to a particular procedure. You must tell them about their right to see another doctor and make sure they have enough information to exercise that right. In providing this information you must not imply or express disapproval of the patient’s lifestyle, choices or beliefs. If it is not practical for a patient to arrange to see another doctor, you must make sure that arrangements are made for another suitably qualified colleague to take over your role.17.