Expert advice

Legal advice: Am I allowed to read my own hospital notes?

Question: I was in hospital recently and was told by a nurse that I had to make an appointment with the doctor if I wanted to read my own notes. Surely they are my property and I am entitled to read them? 

Question: I was in hospital recently and was told by a nurse that I had to make an appointment with the doctor if I wanted to read my own notes. Surely they are my property and I am entitled to read them? 

Notes made about you whilst you are in hospital, or any other health setting, are not yours. If it is an NHS hospital, they belong to the health secretary; if it is a private hospital, they belong to the consultant or the hospital itself.

If something belongs to someone else, you do not have a right to it. The Data Protection Act 1998 allows you to access your health records, but this usually means you receive a copy rather than obtaining and holding the originals. 

Your role as a nurse does not give you extra privileges with regard to seeing your own health record. 

If you want to see your records, you need to make a request and pay the appropriate fee. But be prepared for a wait as this is not an instantaneous process. 

Translation

There are also more important reasons why we do not allow patients automatic access to their notes. A health record could be written in a language the patient is unfamiliar with and may need ‘translating’ for the patient to understand. It may also refer to a third party and these details will need to be removed before the patient sees the health record. 

It is also possible that the record contains information that the patient has not been informed of yet – if an appointment is to be arranged, for example. 

So the nurse was right, you do not have the automatic right to read, or even access, your notes.


Marc Cornock (@Academylawyer2) is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer and senior lecturer at the Open University

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