The rules governing confidentiality of personal information distinguish between individuals who lack the capacity to meaningfully consent to, or dissent from, information being shared, and those who have this capacity. Where capacity is judged to be absent, a health professional is expected to share information with those who need to know, including family members where appropriate, where this is in the patient's best interest or where the public interest in sharing outweighs the obligation of confidentiality.
Where an individual has the capacity to consent but refuses to do so, a health professional may still disclose information where the public interest served by doing so outweighs the obligation of confidentiality. This may include, where the risk is sufficient to warrant it, the protection of the individual's health or to safeguard others.
Where a patient is being cared for under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1983, their nearest relative has certain statutory rights in relation to their detention and guardianship.
The Department will be revising its confidentiality guidelines during the course of this year and the importance of keeping family members informed will be given appropriate emphasis.