Medical life: Patients' trust must not be betrayed in the wake of the riots

 

In 1981, after the Brixton riots, violence broke out in other parts of London, including Hackney, where I lived. Battles between rioters and police led to injuries and, after one of these incidents, my GP at the time – Robert Lyle – happened by Hackney Hospital Accident and Emergency. There he witnessed a woman police constable going through the A&E register with a nurse. "And this was a head injury, was it?" the Pc was saying, as she noted down the patient's name and address.

Dr Lyle was outraged at this blatant breach of patient confidentiality. It was obvious the police were using A&E records to identify rioters, whom they could then arrest. Twenty four hours later he vented his anger on the BBC Today programme, where he observed that if injured rioters feared being shopped to the police they would not seek treatment at A&E.

His intervention triggered a national debate about the duties of doctors to patients in circumstances where a crime might have been committed.

In the decades since, the General Medical Council has refined its advice, making it clear that doctors' overriding duty is to protect patients' confidentiality and only in cases of the most serious crimes are they entitled to breach it.

Thirty years on, following the 2011 riots, the Medical Defence Union, which provides legal support to doctors, last week issued its own advice about shopping rioters to the police. Unfortunately this document gets the balance so completely wrong that it represents a disgraceful betrayal of patients' trust.

The tenor of the advice is established with its opening sentence – "The MDU has advised its members about when they can report a patient to the authorities" – and continues: "While doctors' duty of confidentiality is central to the doctor-patient relationship, doctors can justifiably disclose information about patients if it is in the public interest."

It does say information may only be disclosed in the case of "serious" crime which "threatens serious harm to public order or involves substantial financial gain or loss", but fails to stress it. Knocking off a pair of box-fresh trainers or a nice new laptop doesn't count – the kind of crimes of which the vast majority of those convicted in the recent riots have been guilty.

It is the spirit of the MDU advice that is wrong – not its letter. It utterly fails to emphasise the absolute priority doctors must accord to patient confidentially if they are to maintain their patients' trust. The document should have opened by saying doctors must only dare to breach it in the most extreme circumstances and when they do so, they must be prepared to defend themselves in front of the GMC.

It is not the medical profession's responsibility to maintain law and order – its duty is to provide care to those who need it, non-judgmentally, without fear or favour. If doctors lose sight of that, we are doomed.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions