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RCPI sought detailed legal advice over patients recording consultations

The Medical Independent (MI) has been told that the advice was sought on the application of data protection legislation to various scenarios that can arise in the context of the doctor and patient relationship.

Earlier this year, the Forum of Postgraduate Medical Training Bodies discussed this legal advice. RCPI President Prof Frank Murray brought a memo to the Forum regarding the recording of consults by patients.

The issue was raised at a subsequent meeting of the RCSI Committee for Surgical Affairs in March.

“The RCPI sought legal advice for its trainees, Members and Fellows about the recording of consults by patients and shared the advice with members of the Forum,” read the Committee minutes.

“It was agreed that this was helpful and should be communicated to RCSI Fellows.”

Last week, an RCPI spokesperson would not outline the exact details of the legal advice.

 “But to put it in context there are many reasons why some patients like to record consultations, such as to be able to help them to understand what is being said at what can be a stressful time for them in terms of their health,” the spokesperson said.

MI understands that the advice noted that a patient may legally make covert recordings of consultations.

However, it is likely to be difficult to use the recording (eg, as evidence in court), as the doctor can argue that disclosure of the recording is a breach of their privacy, of confidentiality or a breach of the Data Protection Acts.

The proliferation of smartphones and the rise of telemedicine have led to an increase in patients worldwide seeking to record their medical consultations.

Medical indemnity bodies now provide guidance on the issue. According to the MDU, recordings (even those made covertly) have been admitted as evidence of wrongdoing by the General Medical Council in the UK and in court.

Ms Sheila O’Connor, National Coordinator of Patient Focus, told MI its view is that patients should tell the doctor “before they embark on a recording like this”.

  1. Walla on December 3, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Any doctor seeing patients is doing so in a professional capacity. He would not provide any private or personal information and therefore no such information would be captured on a recording of the consultation made by a patient.

    The argument put forward in this article reminds me of the arguments initially put forward some years ago in the UK as an intuitive response. However closer inspection of the facts showed such an intuitive response was incorrect.

    In the UK a consultation with a doctor is considered to be private for the patient but not private for the doctor. Isn’t it the same in Ireland?

  2. Walla on December 3, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Any doctor seeing patients is doing so in a professional capacity. He would not provide any private or personal information and therefore no such information would be captured on a recording of the consultation made by a patient.

    The argument put forward in this article reminds me of the arguments initially put forward some years ago in the UK as an intuitive response. However closer inspection of the facts showed such an intuitive response was incorrect.

    In the UK a consultation with a doctor is considered to be private for the patient but not private for the doctor. Isn’t it the same in Ireland?

  3. nolegion on December 1, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    In England, covert recordings taken by patients of consultations with doctors have beeen adduced in evidence in disciplinary proceeedings brought by the GMC several times. Covert recordings taken by individuals have also been listened to in in other spheres, such as employment tirbunals. The right of private individuals to proceed in this fashion is regarded as ‘established law’, and is not prohibited by (our) Data Protection Act 1998.

    I am ignorant, however, of Irish law and would be interested to learn more about an apparent difference with regard to the admissibilty of recorded evidence as indicated by this article.

    Would anybody be able to provide me with a link to any underlying Irish law which would prevent a private individual from producing such evidence in an Irish court? Irish Data Protection statutory provisions, case law, anything…?

    Call me an old sceptic, but if the RCPI is being cagey about the precise terms of legal advice received, then it raises the supicion that it is because it contains details they don’t want to hear – or let patients know about…

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