Medical profession dismisses police call to loosen patient confidentiality

Calls by a senior policeman for a review of the law on patient
confidentiality to allow doctors to share information more easily
on people with mental illnesses who may be dangerous have been
dismissed as “nonsense” by the Royal College of

Vice president of the RCP Tony Zigmond said the General Medical
Council’s rules already permitted doctors to breach
confidentiality where they were concerned a patient may be a risk
to others and they did not need to be reviewed.

“The difficult thing is identifying which people are a
risk to others. To know that would be magical. But you can’t
foretell the future, much as you would like to. There will always
be tragedies because you just cannot stop them.”

He added that patients may decide to avoid treatment or not
disclose everything if they felt their confidence might be

Zigmond’s comments follow a call last week by Commander
Andy Baker, Scotland Yard’s head of murder, that the law on
patient confidentiality should be reviewed so doctors can share
information more easily.

Baker is working on a number of research projects looking at
ways in which murders can be prevented including looking at how
agencies can identify which people with mental health problems may

Charity SANE, which has been working alongside Baker, has backed
the call. Chief executive Marjorie Wallace said: “Over
emphasis on patient confidentiality to protect patients’
rights can conflict tragically with the rights of families and the

Wallace added that work by the Metropolitan Police on an
“urgent change in practice and attitudes …could prevent
at least one third of the 48 homicides involving mental illness
each year”.

But a spokesperson for the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health
said: “More important than a change in this law is that
services users are really listened to. Our concern is that it has
the potential to erode trust between doctors and service

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