May 12, 2020 / 7:11 PM / 20 days ago

Partly false claim: Doctors can disclose patient details under UK law change

A video being shared on Facebook that makes claims about changes to UK law regarding patient-doctor confidentiality amid the coronavirus pandemic contains some false and misleading information. 

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

The subject of the video (here), who says she is a nurse, claims the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 was changed on April 27 to withdraw a patient’s right to confidentiality.

She says: “Now what’s come into play when that came in - when the rules were changed on April 27, 2020 - there’s no more confidentiality. 

“So, normally when you went and spoke to your health practitioner about anything, that was in confidence; it couldn’t be repeated. Well, that’s gone. 

“So when you tell them what you’ve got - or if you’ve got anything - they can tell everybody now.” 

Firstly, no changes were made to the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 or the Coronavirus Act 2020 on April 27, 2020 (see Reuters Fact Check article here). 

A spokesman for the General Medical Council, which oversees medical education and training in the UK, said guidance regarding doctor-patient confidentiality remained unchanged.

The spokesman said there may be specific circumstances - “whether in a pandemic or not” - under which confidentiality may need to be waived. These are listed under GMC guidelines that were in place before the outbreak of COVID-19 and include situations where “disclosing personal information may be justified in the public interest if failure to do so may expose others to a risk of death or serious harm” (here). 

In such cases, the GMC sets out detailed guidelines (here) .

These include using anonymised information if it is practicable to do so and if it will serve the purpose; explaining to the patient how the information will be used; and keeping disclosures to the minimum necessary.

VERDICT

Partly false. The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 was not changed in April 2020, and no subsequent changes have been made regarding doctors’ duty of confidentiality during the COVID-19 crisis. Under specific circumstances, medical professionals are able to share confidential information, but guidelines must be met regarding what information is provided, how it is shared, and what the patient is told. 

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here .

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