All staff working for the NHS have to follow NHS rules on confidentiality, and they could face disciplinary action or dismissal if they don't. The rules are as relevant in doctor’s and dentist’s surgeries as in hospitals.
You may sometimes need to talk to a doctor or another healthcare worker about things you’d like to be kept private. This could include your HIV status, details about your sex life, or how you’re feeling. You can expect this information to be treated with the strictest confidence.
The general principle is that your personal information must be kept private. One important exception is that relevant information will normally be shared within the healthcare team and with other health workers who give you care. This is mostly so that the right decisions about treatment can be made.
These rules apply to reception and other support staff as well as to doctors, dentists and nurses. Reception staff might have access to your medical records as part of their work, but they certainly shouldn’t discuss your HIV status in public, or with anyone outside the healthcare team.
Confidentiality is also protected by the law, and it would be possible to take legal action against someone who has breached your confidence. Doctors who break the rules could be “struck off”, which means they can’t work as a doctor any more.
The same rules of confidentiality will apply to the Summary Care Record. This is a new system of brief electronic records being introduced in England. These records contain basic information like your name and date of birth.
They also mention allergies and the medicines you take, including HIV medicines if these have been discussed with your GP. Health workers involved in your care are allowed to access your records.
This could help you to get the safest medical care. For example, if you were brought to hospital in an emergency and were unconscious, the Summary Care Record could help the doctors to avoid harmful interactions with your HIV medicines
You can refuse to have your details stored on this electronic record if you do not wish your HIV status to be accessed by other health care workers.
Find out more about NHS Summary Care Records.
Similar systems exist in Scotland (Emergency Care Records), Wales (Individual Health Records) and Northern Ireland (Emergency Care Summary Records).
It's within the NHS rules for anonymous information to be shared. For example, the GP might pass on statistics about what treatment was provided, but should remove your name and any other information that could identify you.
There are some situations where you might agree that your doctor can provide information from your medical records. For example, you may give permission to a doctor to provide information as part of an application for an insurance policy, or to an employer when you're applying for a job.
There are a few other situations when the normal rules of confidentiality may not apply or be broken. These situations are extremely uncommon.
Otherwise, the doctor (and other health workers) must make sure that your medical information remains private.
You should also be aware that as more and more NHS services are contracted out to private, partner organisations, wider sharing of your personal information is inevitable.
If you think a healthcare worker might have breached your patient confidentiality, call our helpline THT Direct on 0808 802 1221 for free advice.
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This article was last reviewed on
by Anna Peters
Date due for the next review: 11/7/2020
Content Author: Gillian Arrindell
Current Owner: Advice
NHS Summary Care Records
NAT HIV Patient Information and NHS Confidentiality in England. January 2014
NAT Confidentiality in the NHS: Your information, your rights. June 2014
Various people talk about their experiences of living with HIV.
CAB - Citizens Advice Bureau
HIV Drug Interactions
George House Trust
Equality and Human Rights Commission
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