NHS Code of Practice for Confidentiality

The NHS Code of Practice for Confidentiality (2003) is a set of vital guidelines about handling sensitive patient information when working in the NHS.

Confidential patient information can be defined as: information that could be used to identify a patient. This includes a patient’s name, age, gender, address, telephone number, email address, photo ID, and medical history.

The document states that staff, patients, and the general public have a right to expect that their information will be treated with the utmost care and respect, and only shared with their full consent or when in their best interests.

You can view the full document by clicking this link: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/200146/Confidentiality_-_NHS_Code_of_Practice.pdf

A key section of the document explains that:

“Patient information is generally held under legal and ethical obligations of confidentiality. Information provided in confidence should not be used or disclosed in a form that might identify a patient without his or her consent. There are a number of important exceptions to this rule…but it applies in most circumstances.”

This Code of Practice also contains valuable information about patient consent, and the duty of confidentiality that staff have towards their patients to give the best possible care. This includes:

  • Patients may already understand that their information may be shared between healthcare facilities, but it is proper practice to assume they are not aware of this, and to disclose this information to them clearly.
  • Some uses of confidential patient information do not directly influence the care the patient will be receiving. Rather, the information is used to benefit society at large, such as through medical research and health service management. Patients may not be aware of this fact, and it is best not to assume that they understand or consent to these practices.
  • Patients have the right to object to the use of their confidential information, and they must be made aware of this right.
  • If a patient does not consent to their information being disclosed to other health professionals, it might limit the care that the patient is able to receive. In rare cases, it may not be possible to offer certain treatment options to the patient. The patient should be informed about these facts.