Data Protection – GP Blocks Disclosure of Expert Report to Patient
Deciding whether or not to disclose information under the Data Protection Act 1998 can involve a delicate balance being struck between privacy rights and the benefits of transparency. That was certainly so in one case in which a cancer sufferer sought disclosure by the General Medical Council (GMC) of an expert report that he believed might assist him in mounting a compensation claim against a GP.
The patient claimed that the GP’s negligence had resulted in an avoidable delay of one year in the diagnosis of his bladder cancer. He had complained to the GMC, who resolved to take no further action against the GP. That decision was based upon the independent report which, whilst making certain criticisms of the care provided, found that the GP had not fallen seriously below expected standards.
The patient’s request for disclosure of the report was granted by the GMC. However, in upholding the GP’s challenge to that decision, the High Court identified a number of flaws in the balancing exercise performed. It noted that, in the absence of the GPs consent, the GMC should have started with a presumption against disclosure.
There had been no real consideration of the GP’s right to privacy as a data subject and too much weight had been placed on the desirability of transparency and the patient’s equality rights. The GMC had also taken inadequate account of the GP’s express refusal to consent and that the dominant purpose of the disclosure request was to use the report in intended litigation against him. All those factors pointed cumulatively towards refusal of the request.