The Department of Health (DH) produced this guidance, which expands on the principles set out in the Code of Practice and specifically the guidance on disclosure of confidential information in the public interest contained in Annex B of the guidance.
Although each should be considered on its own merits, the guidance suggests that certain considerations must be made in all cases:
- the extent of the information that is to be disclosed (for example it will be easier to justify disclosure of the fact that someone attended a clinic than detailed health information);
- the nature of the crime or harm justifying the disclosure; and
- whether the disclosure is for detention or prosecution of crime, or harm to others, or whether it is preventative (it will be more justifiable to disclose in the former situation).
A public interest justification for disclosure can be considered where:
- disclosure would be in the public interest;
- the purpose of disclosure can’t be achieved with anonymised information;
- there is no statutory basis for disclosure; and
- patient consent has not been given because:
- it has not been practicable to ask (because there are no contact details or the matter is urgent);
- it would be inappropriate to ask (because the patient lacks capacity or under criminal investigation); or
- the patient has been asked and was refused.
The guidance provides a useful flow chart to use when considering whether disclosure of confidential patient information without consent might be justified in the public interest.