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BPS raises serious concerns about patient confidentiality and trust under new proposed legislation

27 October 2021

The BPS believes new provisions proposed in the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill are unnecessary and could seriously damage patient trust.

Legislation currently being scrutinised by the House of Lords contains sections that would allow for a mandatory obligation for healthcare workers to share confidential information about patients with the police. Amendments that raised the concerns of the BPS were tabled in the House of Lords this week and the Minister speaking on behalf of the government has agreed to look into the issue further. 

In a new briefing paper produced in partnership with the BACP, the BPS argues that these provisions are unnecessary and could damage patient trust, creating barriers to people seeking care. It argues there are already mechanisms for the sharing of confidential health information when necessary on public interest grounds and there is no need for new legislation. The society is also concerned that it will disproportionately hit some groups and communities and worsen inequalities.

Katherine Carpenter, president of the BPS, said:

“While the BPS supports government initiatives to empower the police to uphold public safety we believe this proposed change is unnecessary. There are already provisions in place to share health information when needed and this new legislation risks undermining the trust between patients and healthcare professions that is at the heart of the healthcare system.

“We have serious concerns about there being blanket requirements for healthcare workers to disclose confidential information, instead of the case-by-case basis under which we currently operate. We share the concerns of other organisations - including the BMA and BACP - that this new legislation will worsen inequalities and disproportionately impact some groups and communities, widening divisions and damaging trust further.”

Julia Faulconbridge from the BPS’ Division of Clinical Psychology, added:

“Trust is an essential component of a therapeutic relationship and confidentiality is an essential component of building trust. All therapists are expected to discuss both confidentiality and the possible circumstances in which information might be disclosed with their clients - this would be in terms of it being necessary to prevent serious harm to the person or to others.

“Creating a mandatory obligation on therapists to report confidential information to the police would fundamentally damage the development of trust and mean that many people, including those most in need and those for whom trust is already a significant issue, would no longer feel able to accept the help available to them.”

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