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Ask the experts: Charging the police

Q: The police have asked us to provide information about one of our patients. The request is for a copy of the patient's notes and the police say they are exempt from paying us a fee. Is this correct?

A: Whether you can charge a fee will depend on the context in which disclosure is requested. You can charge a 'subject access request' (SAR) fee when the data subject (a patient) is seeking access, rather than a third party. So technically as this is not a SAR there is no law governing what is payable as this is not a SAR.

Certainly, the police have no blanket exemption from paying any records access fees.

However, where the practice is disclosing a patient's details because it is satisfied that in the circumstances, the public interest in making the disclosure (for example, for preventing or detecting crime) is sufficient to justify breaching the patient's confidence, it is inconsistent logically to charge the police a fee.

In other words, it is difficult to say you are making the disclosure in the public interest, but only if the police are willing to pay your copying charges.

On the other hand, if the police are relying on patient consent to gain access to the records, this is much more akin to a SAR. Where this is the case I think it is appropriate to charge a fee for providing copies of the record.

All practices should be aware that the police have no entitlement to patient information. Disclosure can only take place if:

  • Either appropriate consent has been supplied.
  • Or if the practice itself is satisfied that it can justify a breach of  confidence in the public interest.

It is the practice, rather than the police that will have to defend any allegations of breach of confidence.

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