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IMC: ‘Confidentiality is fundamental to ethics’

04 Sep 2013

By Lloyd Mudiwa.

Confidentiality is a fundamental principle of medical ethics and is central to the trust between patients and doctors, the Medical Council has stated, citing its Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners.

This follows a warning by the country’s largest maternity hospital that if a doctor were found to be the source of the leak regarding the details about a woman who underwent a termination of her pregnancy at the National Maternity Hospital a number of weeks ago, the matter could end up in a Medical Council hearing.

It was reported that the unnamed woman was the first to be treated under the new abortion legislation contained in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act passed last month, before the Department of Health clarified that the Act was not yet law owing to operational issues.

The Council provides ethical guidance to doctors in its Guide under Section C (Page 25), which relates to medical records and confidentiality, a spokesperson told IMT.

Section 24.1 states: “Patients are entitled to expect that information about them will be held in confidence. You should not disclose confidential patient information to others, except in certain limited circumstances outlined in paragraphs 26 to 30.”

According to the Guide, patient information remains confidential, even after a patient’s death.

“If it is unclear whether the patient consented to disclosure of information after their death, you should consider how disclosure of the information might benefit or cause distress to the deceased’s family or carers. You should also consider the effect of disclosure on the reputation of the deceased and the purpose of the disclosure. Individual discretion in this area might be limited by law.”

4 September 2013

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times