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Freedom of Information:

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force on 1 January 2005. Many bodies, both public and private, hold files on the people they deal with. Important decisions about you may be taken on the basis of your file - sometimes by people who have never even met you or spoken to you. All they know about you is what is written in your file.

What does it mean?

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, anybody may request information from a public authority which has functions in England, Wales and/or Northern Ireland. The Act gives two statutory rights to applicants:

  • To be told whether or not the public authority holds any information; and if so,

  • To have that information shared with them.

If the information that is being held is incomplete, inaccurate or unfair your rights may be at risk or you could be denied a benefit or service that you need.

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Health Records:

You have rights of access to your own health records. Under the Data Protection Act (DPA) you are entitled to see all information relating to your physical or mental health which has been recorded by or on behalf of a 'health professional' in connection with your care.  The health professionals whose records can be seen include:-

  • Art therapists
  • Dentists
  • Medical laboratory technicians
  • Opticians
  • Pharmacists
  • Child psychotherapists
  • Doctors
  • Music /speech therapists
  • Orthoptists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Chiropodists
  • Dieticians
  • Midwives
  • Occupational therapists
  • Prosthetists
  • Clinical psychologists
  • Health visitors
  • Nurses
  • Osteopaths
  • Radiographers

This right of access covers both NHS and private medical records, and information of any age, however long ago it was recorded

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Your access rights are more limited if:

  • Information about your health is held by someone who does not fall within the Act's definition of a 'health professional', such as records held by held by various kinds of psychotherapists or alternative practitioners.
  • Information is held by a health professional who is not and never has been responsible for your care - such as a DSS doctor responsible for deciding whether you are entitled to disability benefit.

In these cases, you are entitled to see computerised data and (from October 2001) structured files - but not unstructured information.

You have additional rights to see medical reports supplied for insurance or employment purposes.

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If you just want to inspect your own records, and not have copies, access must be given and you should not be charged for this, so long as some form of information has been added to your record in the last 40 days. This should allow free inspection by anyone who has recently been seen by a health professional.

A health professional from the list above does not need another health professional's permission to show you information recorded by that person. For instance your Doctor cannot withhold, say, a letter from a hospital consultant on the grounds that he or she needs the consultant's permission to show you. If there is a possibility that the information contained within the document might seriously harm you, the health professional who is responsible for that particular entry of your treatment may have to be consulted.

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Children's records:

If a parent wishes to see a child’s record, the child’s consent is sought. If the child has specified that they do not wish certain aspects to be revealed this has to be adhered to.

You have no right to view deceased person’s records –the only exception is if the death has been caused by negligence – you then may have access to the records relating to the cause of death.

Your main rights to see personal data about yourself, held on computer and on paper, come from the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). The DPA provides a right of access to personal information about you held by public authorities and private bodies,regardless of the form in which it is held.

Exempt Information:

One thing to remember is that you will not necessarily be told if exempt information has be held back, and unfortunately you have no right to be told either, you may be given an edited version or that they hold no information on you because it is all exempt. If you believe information has been withheld it may be worth actually asking if they have done so.

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