Medical profession dismisses police call to loosen patient confidentiality

The medical profession has dismissed police calls for a review of
patient confidentiality rules.

Tony Zigmond, vice president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists,
described last week’s call by Scotland Yard for a review of the
rules so that doctors can share information with the police more
easily on people with mental illness who may be dangerous as

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

“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
-Êyou cannot stop them.”

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

Last week commander Andy Baker, Scotland Yard’s head of homicide
investigation, called for doctors to be able to tell the police
about potentially dangerous clients without fear of disciplinary

Baker is working on several 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

Mental health charity Sane, which has been working with Baker, has
backed the call. Chief executive Marjorie Wallace said:
“Over-emphasis on patient confidentiality to protect patients’
rights can conflict 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

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 users.”

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