This site is intended for health professionals only

Family disputes over child’s medical records on the up

7 January 2013

Share this article

The rising number of parents “warring” over their child’s medical records is causing headaches for many GPs across the country.

Last year, 4 January, or ‘Divorce Day’ as it has become known thanks to many families struggling to stay together over the festive period, saw 179 GPs seek advice from the Medical Protection Society (MPS) when making sometimes “difficult judgments” over whether to release a child’s medical records to a separated parent.

This works out at one phone call every other day from GPs seeking advice from MPS on this matter. 

While UK law states that the mother of the child has parental responsibility and, therefore has a right of access to their records, a partner’s access to a child’s records is said to be “less straightforward”. A further consideration should be whether or not the child’s consent is sought prior to the disclosure of the information.

The complexity of the issue has led to a total of 800 calls from GPs seeking advice on this area in the past five years. 

The most common request from GPs relates to an estranged father seeking access to medical information about their child, following an acrimonious split with the child’s mother.

Richard Stacey, medico-legal advisor at the MPS, said it is “vital” GPs do not become “embroiled in any family disputes”, but acknowledges it can be “especially difficult” when both parents are patients at the practice.

He advised GPs must consider any request for access to a child’s records “objectively” and “fairly”.

“Calls from GPs concerned about separated parents having access to children’s records are now among our most common,” said Stacey.

”Access to a child’s records can be a contentious point for separated parents and it has the potential to raise all kinds of issues relating to parental rights and the GP’s obligations. We received a record number of calls last year and expect that this will continue to rise.

”The interests of the child are paramount at all times. In most cases the request for access is well-intentioned and reasonable, but it is important that all requests for access to a child’s records are dealt with fairly and in line with the relevant professional guidance and legislation.”