It depends on the type of health record. Different types of health records should be kept for different periods of time.
DH guidance on keeping health records
The Department of Health (DH) has produced guidance on managing health records for NHS organisations in England. This guidance covers many types of health record and specifies the length of time they should be kept for (the minimum retention period).
The guidance applies regardless of how the records are held, for example:
- paper records
- electronic records
- images, such as X-rays and slides
- sound records, such as audio tapes
The guidance also applies to records about patients treated on behalf of the NHS in the private healthcare sector.
GP records should be retained until 10 years after the patient's death or after the patient has permanently left the country, unless they remain in the European Union.
Electronic patient records must not be destroyed or deleted for the foreseeable future.
Children and young people
All types of records for children and young people should be retained until the patient is 25 (or 26 if they are 17 when treatment ends) or 8 years after their death, if sooner.
If a child’s illness or death could be relevant to an adult condition or have genetic implications for their family, records may be kept for longer.
Maternity records (including obstetric and midwifery records)
Maternity records must be retained for 25 years after the birth of the last child.
Where can I get more information?
For more information, including what happens after the minimum retention period expires, see Records management: NHS code of practice on GOV.UK. These documents explain where the requirements may vary for some types of health record, such as those relating to:
- people receiving treatment for a mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983
- people serving in the armed forces
- people serving a prison sentence
Read the answers to more questions about NHS services and treatments.