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Protect “confidential” medical records from the authorities

Comment 22nd July 2010

I am calling for medical confidentiality to be respected and for the practice of allowing the police and CPS access to a person's medical records to be stopped and indeed made illegal and a ban on using a person's medical history or records in criminal proceedings.

Currently, in certain circumstances the police can obtain a warrant to get a copy of a person's supposedly confidential medical records, including mental health records.

Sometimes, the clinical staff responsible for protecting the records will not even require a warrant, but will provide the records on the basis of a request from the police or CPS.

Why should the authorities be able to look at and use your "confidential" medical records against you, when questioning or prosecuting you?

I'm particularly concerned that if someone has a mental health problem,  the fact that medical records are not confidential will put people off seeking help and sharing their thoughts and feelings with a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist, because they might worry that these probably quite strange thoughts could be used against them in the future. If they don't seek help, their condition will probably get worse and they might become a danger to themselves or others.

The thoughts and feelings expressed in therapy may be no more weird than those that most people have from time to time, but if the person becomes a suspect in an investigation in the future, the fact that they have shared their thoughts in therapy means that they can then be used against them by the police, or as "evidence" or to make them out to be some sort of wierdo and turn the jury against them in court.

If a person is fortunate enough to be able to pay for private therapy, the notes from this will not be available to the authorities, mainly because they will not know that you had therapy or who you saw, but if you are poor and have to accept therapy on the NHS, the authorities will see this from your GP's records and then go fishing in your mental health records for anything they think will help their case.

I think it's disgusting that we don't protect medical confidentiality so that people can seek help without worrying that it might cause problems for them in the future, but currently the NHS and the Government regards your records as their property to do with what they wish.

Why does this matter?

Because a person's right to have their medical confidentiality respected shouldn't depend on how rich they are, as it currently does.

It is clearly inequitable that someone who's shared their thoughts whilst seeking help can have those thoughts used against them later in court proceedings to decide their guilt or innocence (and thus freedom).

It hardly chimes with the idea supposedly supported by the government that mentally illness is quite common and doesn't mean a person should be treated differently, yet at the same time the government uses the thoughts and feelings of those mentally ill people against them when it choses.

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