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Mental health

Confidentiality and mental health

You and the person you're looking after have a right to expect social services and healthcare workers to keep your personal information confidential. In most cases, information about you should not be passed to third parties, such as workers in the voluntary sector, local councillors or other members of your family, without your consent.

Personal information held by social services or a healthcare organisation should be kept in office files or in computer records that are only accessible to the people involved in your care. These organisations must keep the information very secure. Normally, organisations have a written policy about confidentiality, which you can ask to see.

The Data Protection Act is a law that applies to all social services and health records. It means that any information about you should be kept accurately and securely, and there should be measures restricting who can see it.

There are circumstances when an authority may have the right to break the rules about confidentiality. This is normally in extreme situations, for example, when there are concerns about a child's safety, or when it's suspected that terrorism or proceeds from crime are involved.

Getting access to personal information held about you

The Data Protection Act also gives individuals the right to access personal information held about them. This can be useful, for example, if you're concerned about how your carer's assessment was carried out or you want to complain about a decision to refuse services. It may help you to understand why a decision was made or give you the chance to correct any wrong information.

Local authorities or healthcare organisations may refuse access in some situations. For example, if the information you want to see contains information about other people (such as other members of the family), the authority may have to consider their duty of confidence to those other people.

Carers and confidentiality

When you're looking after someone, you may feel you have a right to access information held about them or that you need the information to help you care for them. However, the law makes it very clear that social services and healthcare authorities have a duty to protect an individual's confidentiality. Carers don't have an automatic right to personal information about the person they're looking after.

Information about children

If a child under 18 wants to see their personal records, the authority must decide whether they have a proper understanding about the nature of the request. If not, a parent can make the request on the child's behalf. However, the authority would only disclose information to the parent if they thought it was in the child's interests.

Information about adults who lack mental capacity

If you're caring for an adult who lacks the mental capacity to ask to see information held about them, you may want to make such a request yourself. The local authority or healthcare organisation that holds the information may be concerned about confidentiality and be reluctant to give you the information.

Authorities have to consider the issues. On the one hand, they have a duty of confidentiality to the adult who lacks the mental capacity. On the other hand, disclosing that information to a parent or carer may be in the adult's best interests. For example, it may mean that the parent or carer can dispute a decision.


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Jack767 said on 15 July 2014

I believe I have had my confidentiality abused by a nurse. Out of the blue in 2XXX, receiving treatment, a nurse asked me if I know of someone who I do know of in a loose way. To get this loose social link she has to have talked to that acquaintance about her patients. This builds up the belief that you cannot trust the nurses or the system lacks security by the fact that she is discussing her work freely. It also brings up a belief that nurse training must be very shoddy or you just cannot trust anyone at all. And that she believes she can hide behind a patient or hide behind her work.
Not only have I observed this about my own case, but in the past I have had nurses explain to me another patients mental health, doing so like a zoologist in a public place, when that patient was in another room in a public house. To me it is hopeless expecting nurses to respect your confidentiality, I'd advise anyone to be very wary...

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Carer58 said on 07 February 2014

Our family have had our relationship with a seriously mentally ill family member destroyed because of a Trusts total lack of respect for carer confidentiality. We believe this has left that person in a very vulnerable position but we are powerless to do anything about it. It makes it so easy for the perpetrator of the disclosure to hide their wrongdoing behind the patient.

It is time clear legal guidelines were established for carers as well as the patient and included in all NHS confidentiality documentation.

If anybody who reads this can help I would appreciate you contacting me. We are in a desperate situation.

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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

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