Doctors have been issued guidance urging them not to disclose patient details to solicitors without going through the proper channels.
The General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, published the updated advice yesterday setting the parameters for when medics must not share personal information with third parties.
The GMC makes clear details can only be released if the patient has given explicit consent, if required by law, if ordered by the court, or if it can be justified in the public interest.
Doctors are told they may disclose information without consent to their own legal adviser.
The Medical Defence Union, which provides indemnity to doctors, said medics need to be careful when disclosing information to third parties such as the police, employers, insurance companies or solicitors.
Dr Catherine Wills, MDU deputy head of advisory services, said: ‘When faced with a police officer quoting the Data Protection Act, or a solicitor referring to a court order, it can be all too easy to assume confidential patient information can be passed on without consent.
‘Confidentiality is central to the relationship of trust between patients and doctors. Without assurances about confidentiality, patients may be reluctant to give doctors the information they need in order to provide good care.’
The MDU regularly advises its members faced with requests or court orders relating to information about patients, reviewing them for their validity.
In 2016, 3,640 members contacted the MDU’s 24-hour medico-legal advice line for help on confidentiality and disclosure of information.
The GMC’s updated guidance comes into effect on 25 April.