The Data Protection Act and how you can use it to obtain your medical records

Various reasons could be behind why you may require access to your medical records, such as wanting to provide evidence. In medical negligence claims, for example, having your medical records available for consideration by your solicitor and your chosen specialist medical expert is absolutely essential.

You have information stored about you by health professionals, including both the National Health Service and private health companies, as well as opticians, hospitals, GPs and dentists. Under the Data Protection Act 1998, you have a legal right to apply for full access to this information held about you.

An informal request for your medical records

You can call and ask your GP or hospital to make an informal request, or request it during a consultation. Most health professionals will commonly show you your own records when requested informally. On the occasion that they are not prepared to divulge your medical records, you might want to make a more formal request. When lodging a formal request for your medical records, you don’t need to give a reason.

Asking for your medical records – formally

You can lodge your formal request either by email or in writing to your local GP surgery, dentist, optician, or your hospital trust’s patient services manager or health records manager. This request is called a Subject Access Request. You need to outline the date range of the records you would like to see. Also, in order to assist them in finding your records, give as much information as you can regarding the information you want.

Can the NHS refuse to disclose more medical records?

The health records manager will determine whether or not to accept your request. Please do consider the fact that the request can be declined, especially if it is deemed that the release of information could cause injury to your health (or that of another person, especially in the case of mental health issues). Informal guidelines specify that they should aim for a response to get back to you inside 21 days, although the Data Protection Act states that your request should be met within 40 days.

A fee of up to £10 maximum could be payable, unless the records have been changed within the past 40 days, in which case there is no charge. No-one else can request for access to your medical records without your consent. The only time anyone could view your records  without your consent is at the event of your death by applying in writing to the record holder under the Access to Health Records Act 1990. Electronic records must not be deleted or destroyed indefinitely. Paper records should be held by GPs for 10 years (after the patient’s death, or after the patient has permanently left the European Union).

In order to access your medical records, you must search for the right person to consult with by calling your GP, hospital, optician or dentist, or by logging online and searching for relevant contact information on their websites.

If you’re making a claim for medical negligence compensation, whilst you can usually make an application yourself to get hold of your medical records, you can entrust this task to your solicitor. NHS hospitals and GPs are commonly slow in getting records to you, so your solicitor, who is used to chasing medical records, can take on this task. However, delay in getting hold of your medical records is one of the main reasons why claims for medical negligence often take so long – three or four years is quite normal.

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