The Power of Information: putting all of us in control of the health and care information we need policy paper in England outlines the plan for patients to have electronic access to their own GP record by 2015.
The Power of Information AHP Implementation Guide specifically highlights the key aspects relevant to AHPs.
The Scottish Government’s eHealth strategy outlines similar plans to give patients access to their own health records.
Application for access to records
An application for access to records is made to whoever holds the records at the time the request is made. An application should be made under the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998.
You can learn more about the legal requirements governing how a patient may request access to their records on the Legal, Regulatory and Employer responsibilities page.
If an individual physiotherapist receives a direct approach for records that were made in the course of a previous employment and/or contract, then the physiotherapist must redirect the request to the employer and not deal with it personally.
In the case of a child, the parent, person with parental responsibility, or guardian may apply; and in the case of an adult that lacks capacity, any individual appointed to manage the patient’s affairs by the Court may make an application.
In the case of a deceased person, his or her health records form part of his or her estate, and records may only be released to the person with the authority to access the records, such as the Legal Executor or Administrator of the Estate, or a potential beneficiary with a claim to the Estate.
Applications to access the records must be made under the Access to Health Records Act and the Access to Health Records (Northern Ireland) Order 1993.
Occasionally, family members may ask to see records, but records should not be released until the organisation/individual is satisfied that an application has been made by a person with a legitimate claim to see the records.
Charges for viewing or receiving a copies of records
Maximum charges are laid down in relation to providing access to a copy of, or allowing someone to view, a health record under the Data Protection (Subject Access) (Fees and Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2000.
These are summarised in the DoH Guidance for access to health records requests.
Exceptions around access
There are some circumstances when information can be released without the data subject’s permission.
- Personal data such as name and address of patients can be released to a statutory regulator if requested as an outcome of concluded regulatory proceedings. For example, the HCPC can require a physiotherapist who is under a 'Conditions of Practice Order’ to release the names of the patients being treated to the HCPC. In this example, the HCPC is exercising its legal right to 'protect members of the public against dishonesty, malpractice, unfitness or incompetence of a person authorised to carry on any profession …'
- In connection with formal legal proceedings, solicitors may request information. The CSP recommends that members should seek individual advice first if they are asked to disclose under this circumstance.
Physiotherapists should always seek personal advice before disclosing health records without permission, unless such direction comes directly in the form of a Court Order.
Access to records: Useful documents and websites
The following documents provide further information on accessing health records:
- DoH Guidance for access to health records requests
- Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety: Code of Practice on Protecting the Confidentiality of Service User Information
- The Scottish Government: Records Management NHS Code of Practice (Scotland)
- Welsh Assembly Government Confidentiality: Code of practice for health and social care in Wales