Doctors in crossfire over data on children

GPs are increasingly concerned about releasing children’s medical records to separated or divorced parents, experts revealed yesterday.

The Medical Protection Society, which has an office in Leeds, said it received a record number of 179 calls last year from doctors seeking advice, with a total of 800 calls over the last five years.

It said the most common problem relates to an estranged father seeking access to medical information about their child following an acrimonious split with the child’s mother.

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Richard Stacey, medico-legal adviser at the Medical Protection Society, said: “Calls from GPs concerned about separated parents having access to children’s records are now among our most common.

“Access to a child’s records can be a contentious point for separated parents and it has the potential to raise all kinds of issues relating to parental rights and the GP’s obligations. We received a record number of calls last year and expect that this will continue to rise.”

UK law states that the mother of the child has parental responsibility and therefore has a right of access to their records, yet a partner’s access to a child’s records is less straightforward.

Mr Stacey said: “When disclosing information, GPs must make sure that the person making the request has parental responsibility. Consideratio n should also be given to whether or not it is appropriate to obtain the child’s consent before disclosing information.

“As children get older, their own understanding matures. The right to make a decision shifts from parent to the child when the child has sufficient maturity to be capable of making up his or her own mind and their consent should usually be sought prior to disclosing their records.”