Tuesday, 19 January 2010

When confidential means confidential

If you are talking to a professional and you mention things that are personal to you then you expect them to keep this information confidential. I don't think anyone would be interested in my medical records but I would not expect them to be made public.

I read in The Sunday Times that a leading cancer specialist had diagnosed Mo Mowlam's brain tumour as malignant. According to the paper he has 'decided to break his silence for a Channel 4 drama'. I don't know how and when a doctor may break confidentiality. I presume the law changes if someone is dead. There was no report of consulting her family and no mention of Mo's wishes.

There may be times when confidentiality should be broken but even then the confidentiality should only be broken in a real emergency, such as when the outcome of a murder trial depends on it. I'm imagining a scenario where a murderer has used confidentiality to divert attention from himself by falsely implicating an innocent person. That sort of thing.

I can't imagine a scenario where a doctor should breach the confidentiality of a patient. In this case the patient is already dead. To cash in on the celebrity of the dead patient by making a sensational drama for channel 4? No, definitely no.

The doctor has got the permission of the late patient's partner, but that partner too is conveniently dead. I find that suspicious, and to me the whole thing stinks. The effect will be to stop seriously ill patients from confiding fully in their doctors for fear that they too will have their secrets dragged out in public posthumously. People will die, for a bit of channel 4 entertainment.

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