Expert advice

Medical records: can healthcare staff see their own notes at work?

What the law says about nurses and other healthcare professionals accessing their own hospital notes or records in the workplace. We explain your rights of access

What the law says about nurses and other healthcare professionals accessing their own hospital notes or records in the workplace. We explain your rights of access

It seems a small thing, taking a look at your own medical records at work.

Perhaps your paper-based patient notes are in a pile waiting to be returned to the medical records department, or maybe they are accessible via your workplace computer system. Surely there is no harm in taking a quick peek – after all, the notes are about you and you have a right to the information anyway, don’t you?

Actually no. That small, seemingly innocent act, could land you in trouble.

What is the legal problem with looking at my

What the law says about nurses and other healthcare professionals accessing their own hospital notes or records in the workplace. We explain your rights of access

Picture: iStock

It seems a small thing, taking a look at your own medical records at work.

Perhaps your paper-based patient notes are in a pile waiting to be returned to the medical records department, or maybe they are accessible via your workplace computer system. Surely there is no harm in taking a quick peek – after all, the notes are about you and you have a right to the information anyway, don’t you?

Actually no. That small, seemingly innocent act, could land you in trouble.

What is the legal problem with looking at my own notes?

Hospital notes, or medical records, are classified legally as confidential information and are protected by acts of parliament. This protection ensures the information is kept confidential and only shared with those who have a legal right or need to see it.

Part of the legal protection of medical records is that only authorised individuals have access to them and any access must be for a lawful reason.

Accessing a patient’s hospital notes without a lawful reason could be seen as a criminal offence and a breach of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) code of conduct for failing to uphold and promote professionalism and trust.

It would also constitute a breach of your employer’s or university’s disciplinary code.

‘Accessing your hospital notes without making a formal request could land you in trouble with the law, the NMC, and your employer’

As a nurse, you are an authorised individual in respect of the health records for your patients and clients. The main lawful reasons you have for accessing their health records are so that you can see their health history and any care and treatment plans, and can record your interactions and interventions with them.

The issue that you would face in accessing your own hospital notes is that you are not your own nurse. You are the patient, not the healthcare practitioner, and you cannot rely on the protection of the law given to authorised individuals. If you are not an authorised individual you cannot legally access the health record.

Who owns my notes and how can I request to see them legally?

Despite your medical records being about you, you do not own them, and do not have permission to read them.

Health records in the NHS are considered to be owned by the health and social care secretary. If they are held in a private hospital or clinic they are owned by that hospital or by the healthcare practitioner who created them.

If you do not own something you cannot give permission for someone, even yourself, to access it. That permission has to come from the owner.

You do have a legally protected right of access to your hospital notes. You have a legal right to request to see your hospital notes and, unless there is a lawfully justifiable reason not to give you access, they have to be supplied to you within a certain timeframe, usually a month of making the request.

If you make a formal request and it is granted, you can access your own hospital notes. Accessing them without making a formal request could land you in trouble with the law, the NMC, and your employer.

In relation to your own care and treatment you are the patient and being a nurse does not give you any privilege to access your hospital notes, even if they are sitting in the corner over there.


Marc Cornock is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer, senior lecturer in healthcare law at The Open University and author of Key Questions in Healthcare Law and Ethics

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