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High Court rules that doctor’s privacy right should be considered prior to disclosing patient report

Dr DB v General Medical Council [2016] EWHC 2331

The General Medical Council (GMC) investigated a complaint about a GP made by a patient and found that the doctor’s care had fallen below, but not seriously below the expected standard.  As a result, the GMC decided to take no further action against the GP.  The patient wanted to see a copy of the full report.  His motive was to investigate a possible claim for clinical negligence, arising out of the delayed diagnosis of bladder cancer.  The GP refused to consent to this disclosure. 

The GMC reached the decision that it should disclose the report.  It took into account the sensitivity of the patient’s medical records, the independence of the reporting doctor, principles of fairness and transparency, the patient’s legitimate interest, minimal risk to the GP’s reputation and the lack of risk that the GP might misuse the personal data.  The GP brought proceedings to prevent this disclosure.

The judge pointed out that the case involved the weighing of fundamental rights and should be subject to anxious scrutiny.  He took the view that the GMC got the balance wrong and the report should not be disclosed.  The judge gave the following guidelines:

1.     The exercise involves balancing the privacy rights of data subjects;

2.     The starting point should be against disclosure in the absence of consent.  Express refusal of content is a specific factor to be taken into account.

3.     If the sole or dominant purpose is to obtain a document for the purpose of a claim against the other data subject, that is a weighty factor in favour of refusal as the appropriate procedure is set out under the Court Rules.

Read UK Human Rights Blog article here.

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Private Information & Data Protection