Maintaining the confidentiality of health records is the duty of all staff involved in the delivery of health care. Accurate and secure personal health information is an essential part of patient health care.
Information that can identify individual patients must not be used or disclosed for purposes other than healthcare without the individual’s explicit consent, some other legal basis, or where there is a robust public interest or legal justification to do so.
In contrast, anonymised information is not confidential and may be used with relatively few constraints’ as stated in the NHS Confidentiality Code of Practice.
The 2013 Caldicott Review in England introduced an additional principle: 'The duty to share information can be as important as the duty to protect patient confidentiality.'
The review found a strong consensus of support among professionals and the public that safe and appropriate sharing in the interests of the individual’s direct care should be the rule, not the exception.
Your local Data Protection Officer or Caldicott Guardian within your organisation, if you are employed, should be a source of further guidance on confidentiality queries.
Confidentiality: Education for patients
Physiotherapists must educate patients about necessary disclosures; for example, explaining that information will be shared between different members of the team providing their care, and possibly with other agencies or organisations who will continue supporting them at different stages in the care pathway.
Patients have the right to object to the use and disclosure of confidential information that identifies them, and they should be informed of this right.
If the patient exercises their right to prevent disclosure, it is the responsibility of the health professional involved to explain to the patient that their decision may impact on the ability of the organisation to provide certain care or treatment.
Confidentiality: Useful documents and websites
The following documents provide further information on confidentiality, seeking consent to disclose and the use of personal and sensitive data:
- Confidentiality: NHS Code of Practice
- The Caldicott Review
- Health and Care Professionals Council. Confidentiality – guidance for registrants
- Information Commissioners Office Health webpage
- Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety. Code of Practice on Protecting the Confidentiality of Service User Information
- NHS Scotland Code of Practice: Protecting Patient Confidentiality
- Welsh Assembly Government. Confidentiality: code of practice for health and social care in Wales
- DoH Confidentiality: NHS Code of Practice – supplementary guidance: public interest disclosures
- CSP: Consent and physiotherapy practice
- Lowth, M. Confidentiality in the modern NHS (parts 1 and 2)