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Why is confidential patient information used?

Last updated on 9 May 2018

Under the common law duty of confidentiality, if information is given in circumstances where it is expected that a duty of confidence applies, that information cannot normally be disclosed without patient consent. 

However, there are certain circumstances when confidential patient information can be used for the benefit of research and other important activities, examples of which can be found in our register of approved applications

Confidential patient data is used in accordance with Section 251 of the NHS Act 2006, which came about as it was recognised that there were essential activities of the NHS, and important medical research, that required the use of identifiable patient information but it is not always practical to obtain consent.

What is Section 251?

Section 251 of the NHS Act 2006 came about as it was recognised that there were essential activities of the NHS and medical research that required the use of identifiable patient information. However, because patient consent had not been obtained to use patients’ confidential information for these other purposes, there was no secure basis in law for doing so. 

Section 251 was established to enable the common law duty of confidentiality to be lifted to enable disclosure of confidential patient information for medical purposes, where it was not possible to use anonymised information and where seeking consent was not practical, having regard to the cost and technology available. CAG provides its advice in accordance with the framework of the Health Service (Control of Patient Information) Regulations.

Read more in Legal Frameworks.

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