As a GP you have a duty not to disclose confidential or personal information, unless you have your patient’s consent or the disclosure is permitted by law. In general, a patient’s consent is required to release confidential medical information to the Gardaí. There are, however, certain limited circumstances where the public interest in disclosing information outweighs the patient’s interest in preserving confidentiality, or the disclosure is required by law.
1. Medical Council Guidelines
In summary, paragraph 29 and paragraph 31 provide that:
Data Protection and Freedom of Information Legislation
The basic principles of Data Protection/Freedom of Information legislation require you to protect the medical records of your patient securely and to only release sensitive personal data with the explicit consent of the patient or in certain other limited circumstances such as disclosure where there is no capacity and it is in the patient’s interest to disclose the information. Disclosure required by law court order, statute, disclosure in relation to a vulnerable person or child protection concerns or disclosure in the public interest.* It is very important to be aware that these exemptions do not place an obligation on you to make the disclosure, but rather permit the disclosure to the Gardaí.
The Information Commissioner guidance provides that you have “discretion to release personal information to a third party only in exceptional circumstances where, on balance, he or she is of the opinion that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the right to privacy of the individual concerned.”
*For a full discussion on the exemptions which permit disclosure and an interesting case study consult our panel solicitor’s article on Confidentiality - Patient Confidentiality – when can it be breached?
For further advice on what to do when the Gardaí call looking for a patient’s notes or clinical information about a patient consult the following article.