GMC advice on confidentiality after Mo Mowlam revelation

The GMC is advising doctors they have a duty of confidentiality to their patients even after they have died.

The advice follows a story in The Guardian in which Mo Mowlam's consultant discusses the former Northern Ireland secretary's 1996 brain tumour diagnosis and her failure to keep Tony Blair fully informed before her death in 2005.

The consultant said: ‘A frontal lobe tumour can cause disinhibition, behavioural disturbance, and poor judgment. And there she was taking up a job in what was effectively a war situation. But there was nothing I could do. I was her doctor. I was responsible for her care, even if she wouldn't let me keep records in the proper places, or write to her GP.'

A blog on The Guardian website on Tuesday makes it clear that the consultant had the backing of Mowlam's husband before speaking.

A GMC statement says: ‘The GMC is clear that a doctor's duty of confidentiality continues even after a patient has died (Confidentiality, paragraph 70, 2009).

‘Confidentiality is central to the trust between doctors and patients and our guidance says that if a deceased patient had asked for information to remain confidential, doctors should usually respect their wishes.

‘Conversely, information may be disclosed if the patient agreed. If a doctor is unaware of any instructions from the patient, they must consider a number of factors including whether disclosure is likely to cause distress to, or be of benefit to, the patient's partner or family, whether it will also disclose information about the patient's family or anyone else, whether the information is already public knowledge, and the purpose of the disclosure.'

Editor's blog: When does a confidentiality duty to a patient end?

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