Practices using CCTV must ensure they have a clear reason for installing it, such as prevention of crime, and put up notices about its use.
Requests for disclosure of CCTV footage can trip practices up, Medical Defence Union (MDU) medico-legal adviser Dr Caroline Fryar told GP.
She warned that if practices are asked to disclose footage because a theft has taken place, for example, they must protect patient confidentiality.
'The images are likely to show not just the person who has taken the handbag, but others in the waiting room,' she said. Practices should blur out other patients or ask for consent before passing on footage.
The MDU has produced guidance for GPs on CCTV to clarify rules practices must adhere to.
Dr Fryar said practices have been subject to advice from the Information Commissioner's Office for some time, and now need to take note of the government's Surveillance Code of Practice.
'It's quite specific, nothing really new, but practices could be criticised if they don't follow it,' she said. The key point is that practices have to be clear about why they have it. They need signs up in the waiting room telling patients there is surveillance equipment installed.
'As long as they have a specific purpose in mind, it doesn't necessarily need to be a high crime area for a practice to install CCTV.'
Dr Fryar said the real issue was not around having CCTV, but around disclosure. Essentially, she said, practices must 'follow GMC guidance on disclosure of information' and judge whether it is in the public interest to disclose images that may show patients.
'That is the area where people have come unstuck – there is no definition of serious crime. It is easy to justify disclosure if there has been a serious assault. But if practices are asked for disclosure they must judge each case on its merits and bear in mind GMC rules on confidentiality.'
Visit Medeconomics.co.uk for more details and tips from the MDU on using CCTV in your practice.