Being approached by the police can pose a dilemma: as a clinician, you have your own professional obligations and here we look at some scenarios you might face
In September 2017, headlines were made around the world following the arrest of a nurse in the USA, after she refused to co-operate with police seeking a blood sample from an unconscious patient.
A deeply concerning incident for all healthcare professionals, the actions of the police were undoubtedly extreme and have been widely criticised. But any approach from the police in the workplace can be stressful.
If you are approached by the police, stay calm and professional and remember to follow the basic principles of good medical practice and confidentiality, as set out by the GMC. Let the police know that you are keen to co-operate but that you also have your own professional obligations that you must follow. If you are unsure about the request, call Medical Protection for advice.
We have years of experience in advising on such requests; below are some scenarios we have assisted members with:
The police have requested the medical records of a patient of mine who has been arrested. They said I must provide these under section 29 of the Data Protection Act (DPA).
Section 29 of the DPA permits you to disclose information but does not require you to do so. You should explain to the police that you have to comply with your professional duty of confidentiality as set out by the GMC. This says that information can only be disclosed with patient consent, or if it is required by law, or if the disclosure is justified in the public interest. The police should provide you with the relevant consent from the patient, or with further information to assist you in considering whether it is in the public interest to breach confidentiality. It is also open to the police to obtain a Court Order, with which you would need to comply. Seek advice from Medical Protection if you are unsure how to proceed.
The police have asked me to provide a blood sample from an unconscious patient involved in a car accident.
In the UK, blood may be taken from an incapacitated driver for testing in the future with the patient’s consent. The blood test should be taken by a forensic physician, unless this is not reasonably practicable, and not by a doctor involved in the clinical care of the patient. It must only be taken if the doctor in charge of the patient’s care has been notified of the intention to take blood, and has not objected on the grounds that such action would be prejudicial to the patient’s care.
The police have also asked me for details of the driver of the car that was involved in the accident.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 allows the police to require information from anyone that may lead to the identification of the driver. If a disclosure is required by law, you should only disclose information that is relevant to the request, and where practicable you should tell the patient about the disclosure.
The police have asked me for a statement for the coroner following the unexpected death of a patient.
Your duty of confidentiality continues after a patient has died, but you must disclose relevant information to help a coroner with an inquest and will therefore need to provide a statement. If you have any concerns that your involvement in the care of the patient may be vulnerable to criticism, you should seek advice from Medical Protection before submitting your statement.
I’ve been asked to attend the local police station for an interview.
If you are the subject of a police investigation you should take legal advice as soon as possible, and if you are being interviewed under caution you are strongly advised to have legal representation. If the investigation arises out of your professional practice, contact Medical Protection before providing the police with a statement or attending for an interview