All healthcare professionals are obliged by law, and by professional
regulatory standards set out by the General Medical Council, to ensure your
medical information remains confidential. If they fail to obey these standards,
they risk being disciplined or banned from working as a healthcare
professional. So the same standards apply to healthcare staff of all types. Reception
staff and other non-medical staff are guided by similar principles and also
risk being dismissed if they breach patient confidentiality.
Your medical records should not be seen by anyone who is not involved
in your treatment and care, unless you give them permission to do so, except in rare
cases (see Third party disclosure
below). Each worker (which will include reception staff) should only see the
information about you that is relevant to their role.
If you have concerns about confidentiality at a GP (family doctor)
practice, you may wish to ask how information about your HIV status will be recorded
in your records (for example, is it written in your file or just held in your
electronic record? Is the information coded or not; is it easily visible or
recorded discreetly?) and who in the practice will know (for example, only
medical staff, or all clinic staff?). See GPs
for more information on getting the best care at GP services.
There are two ways to give your permission to a healthcare professional
to disclose your status:
- Explicit consent. Explicit consent
is when you are directly asked for consent and either agree orally or in
writing, usually by signing a document saying you agree to this information
- Implied consent. This is when your
actions suggest that you consent, such as agreeing to see another healthcare
professional. You should let your HIV doctor or your GP know if you do not want
other healthcare professionals involved in your care to know your HIV status.
Remember, though, that this could affect the quality of care you receive.
If you live in England, some of your medical information is now stored
in a new way. ‘Summary Care Records’ (SCRs) are electronic records that contain
information about the medicines you take, any allergies you suffer from, and
any reactions you’ve had to a medicine. This information can be especially useful
if you need to be treated in an emergency.
A number of safeguards are in place to keep these records secure, and to
ensure that healthcare professionals directly involved in your treatment or
care can access them quickly. You can choose not to have an SCR by opting out.
You will need to do this through your GP practice. You can also see your SCR by
asking for a print-out of it at your surgery. In the future, you should be able
to access your SCR online.
Similar systems exist in Scotland (Emergency Care Summaries), Wales
(Individual Health Records) and Northern Ireland (Emergency Care Summary
You have the right to ask to have any errors in your medical record
corrected; you can also ask for information that you feel is sensitive, or
opinion rather than fact, to be removed. Usually, the existing information is
struck out (rather than completely removed) and an explanation for this change
If you have asked that your medical information, or aspects of it, is
not disclosed, this will continue to be respected even after your death.
Anonymous information about you and your HIV care
might be used for research purposes. But any information about you will be
removed if your details are being used in this way.
HIV charities and other support organisations should
also have clear confidentiality policies. This means that your personal
information must be kept private – nobody can know anything about you without