Introduction from the medical editor

Dr Sally Old

Since 1983, doctors have topped the yearly Ipsos/Mori poll of professions most trusted  by the public, fighting off competition from teachers, scientists, judges and the police.

This annual endorsement reflects the effort that doctors invest in justifying the trust that patients place in them.

Respecting confidentiality is central to this. Patients who fear that their personal information will be the subject of gossip or routinely disclosed to third parties without their consent are unlikely to disclose their concerns in the consulting room. Such reticence will make it impossible for clinicians to make the correct diagnosis or provide appropriate care and treatment. And yet doctors regularly need to respond to requests for details about their patients. It may be from a colleague, someone in authority such as the police or a coroner, or perhaps a journalist. In some cases, there will be a legal obligation to provide information but in others, the patient’s consent is required. We regularly receive calls from members who are struggling to balance their ethical duty of patient confidentiality with their other legal and ethical obligations. This issue of wardround, which focuses on different aspects of confidentiality, provides some of the answers.

Whether you are caring for a celebrity patient or someone in the public eye, or you receive a request from social services or the police, decisions to disclose confidential information can be challenging. If you need specific advice from the MDU’s team of medico-legal experts, you can call our 24-hour medico-legal helpline on 0800 716 646.

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This page was correct at publication on . Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.