GP blows whistle on terror suspect

A Midlands GP has reported a patient to police over suspected links to terrorism, prompting warnings that practices are legally obliged to disclose fears that people may be involved in serious crime.

Police: building links with primary care (photo: iStock)

A Worcestershire GP contacted counter-terrorism police to discuss concerns about a patient, in a case which the local LMC says could be one of many.

Worcestershire LMC said several GPs in the area have had ‘suspicions about the possible conduct of their patients’.

Concerned GPs should contact the primary care manager at their local NHS England area team for advice, or seek advice from their defence union, the LMC has advised.

Under the government's 'Prevent' strategy, anti-terror experts are attempting to improve 'channels of communication between the health sector and the police'.

A document outlining the Prevent strategy says: 'The key challenge for the healthcare sector is to ensure that, where there are signs that someone has been or is being drawn into terrorism, the healthcare worker can interpret those signs correctly, is aware of the support which is available and is confident in referring the person for further support.

'Preventing someone from becoming a terrorist or from supporting terrorism is substantially comparable to safeguarding in other areas, including child abuse or domestic violence.'

Medical Defence Union medico-legal adviser Dr Udvitha Nandasoma warned that GPs could be breaking the law if they fail to disclose information about patients they suspect of terrorism.

‘On rare occasions, doctors may be justified in disclosing information about patients to the police in the public interest, such as to assist in the detection of prosecution of a serious crime.

'Where terrorism is suspected, GPs should also bear in mind that section 38B of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it a criminal offence for any person to fail to disclose certain information to the police "as soon as is reasonably practicable".

‘This includes information which they know or believe will be of material assistance in preventing the commission by another person of an act of terrorism, or in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of another person, in the UK, for an offence involving the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.

‘If doctors suspect a patient is involved in terrorism and that the Terrorism Act might apply, we would encourage them to seek urgent advice from their medical defence organisation before acting.’

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said on rare occasions GPs have to break patient confidentiality.

‘There are rare times when a GP is expected to breach patient confidentiality and serious concerns that a patient is involved in terrorism should certainly mean a GP raising these concerns with others such as their area team or their medical defence organisation,’ he said.

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