Expert advice

Legal advice: can my son’s friend undertake work experience at the GP surgery where I work?

Allowing a non-health professional access to patients or patient records risks breaching confidentiality and raises issues around consent, says legal expert Marc Cornock.
Work_experience_tile_Getty.jpg

Allowing a non-health professional access to patients or patient records risks breaching confidentiality and raises issues around consent, says legal expert Marc Cornock

The first thing you need to do is seek approval from the relevant person at the practice. This could be your line manager, the practice manager or one of the partners.

Once permission is in place, and if you want your sons friend to observe you as you work, there are two main areas that could pose a problem: patient consent and confidentiality.

Anyone attending a GP surgery is entitled to believe that the health professionals interacting with them are suitably qualified, and are there for the benefit of patients.

Precarious position

This would not apply in the case of your sons friend. He

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Allowing a non-health professional access to patients or patient records risks breaching confidentiality and raises issues around consent, says legal expert Marc Cornock


A non-healthcare professional should not be given access to
patient records. Picture: Getty 

The first thing you need to do is seek approval from the relevant person at the practice. This could be your line manager, the practice manager or one of the partners.

Once permission is in place, and if you want your son’s friend to observe you as you work, there are two main areas that could pose a problem: patient consent and confidentiality.

Anyone attending a GP surgery is entitled to believe that the health professionals interacting with them are suitably qualified, and are there for the benefit of patients.  

Precarious position 

This would not apply in the case of your son’s friend. He is not qualified to undertake any form of consultation or treatment, and is there for his own benefit, rather than that of patients.

If your son’s friend is to have any interaction with patients, you will need to explicitly inform them why he is there. They can then either give consent to his presence or request that he is not present during the consultation.

Your son’s friend is not bound by any duty of confidentiality, and could inadvertently pass on confidential information as a result of his work experience with you. This puts you and the practice in a precarious position, and you risk facilitating a breach of patient confidentiality, so would need to take reasonable steps to ensure this does not happen.

You say your son’s friend is doing his ‘A’ Levels and is interested in a career in nursing. It is great that you want to encourage him in this, but perhaps instead of allowing him access to patient information or contact with patients, he could observe the management of the practice instead.


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

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