Access to records
The Promotion of Access to Information Act 2000 gives everyone the right of access to records held by public or private bodies, provided it is for legitimate reasons. This includes health records. Either the patient or someone authorised to act on the patient’s behalf can request access, and the request must be responded to in 30 calendar days. The Act says that the request should be refused if the disclosure to “the relevant person might cause serious harm to his or her physical or mental health, or well-being”.3
Relatives other than parents have no automatic right of access and any requests for information should only be granted with the consent of the patient. Parents and guardians of children aged under 12 can gain access to their child’s medical records if they request it. An exception is if the child has had a termination of pregnancy, which should remain confidential unless the child consents to its disclosure.
Children aged 12 or over, and who have the maturity to understand the consequences of disclosure, must give their consent to the disclosure of their medical records.
The police have no special right to access clinical records. However, they can be granted access if the patient consents to the disclosure; if the information has been requested by a court order; or if – as with risks to public health – the public interest outweighs the patient’s right to confientiality.
Solicitors may also request access to a patient’s medical records, in situations where they are handling a claim – again, the consent of the patient is needed before any disclosure. If the solicitor is acting on behalf of the patient, it is safe to assume that the request is being made on the instructions of the patient – although a signed consent form clarifying this is preferable.