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The duty of confidentiality

Confidentiality is an essential requirement for the protection of trust between patients and health professionals and is subject to legal and ethical safeguards. Patients should be able to expect information about their health which they give in confidence will be kept confidential unless there is a compelling reason why it should not.

What is confidential?

All identifiable patient information whether it is written, computerised, visually or audio recorded or simply held in memory of health professionals is subject to the duty of confidentiality. This covers any clinical information regarding diagnosis or treatment; images, videos or audio of the patient; the patients doctor; anything relating to the identity of the patient such as name, address etc. Even though demographic information such as name and address are not legally confidential, it is often given in the expectation of confidentiality. Therefore, Health professionals should usually seek patient consent prior to sharing this information with third parties.

Using and disclosing information

Doctors must comply with the law when using, accessing or disclosing personal information. Commonly when third parties request information about patients this can put health care professionals with an ethical or legal dilemma and so several factors need to be considered. This includes patient consent and the patient being properly informed to how their information is being used.


Consent to disclosure may either be explicit or implied. Explicit consent is achieved when the patient agrees orally or in writing. Implied consent is signalled by the behaviour of an informed patient. Patients are made aware that information about them will be shared and it is the health professional’s responsibility to demonstrate that the assumption of consent was made in good faith based on good information. Explicit consent is the ideal as there is no doubt as to what has been agreed.

Sharing information with other health professionals

Information sharing in this context is acceptable to the extent that health professionals share what is necessary and relevant for patient care on a need to know basis. Disclosure of information to social services usually requires explicit consent and refusal to allow disclosure by the patient may compromise patient safety. However if this is an informed decision by a competent person it should be respected.

Below you can find more information are some documents regarding guidance for which practices are required to follow for those who work within or under contract to NHS organisations concerning confidentiality and patients’ consent to the use of their health records.

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9648Communicating with patients by fax and email
added 2 years ago
9650Confidentiality & Disclosure Of Health Information
Type: pdf, 295.6KB, added 2 years ago
9651Confidentiality NHS Code of Practice
Type: pdf, 219.3KB, added 2 years ago
9652Sharing Information About Violent Or Abusive Patients
Type: pdf, 418.3KB, added 2 years ago
9653The Confidentiality And Disclosure Of Information - GOV UK
Type: pdf, 1.7MB, added 2 years ago

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