Reflective accounts

Patient confidentiality

Respecting patients’ wishes is a crucial aspect of safeguarding in nursing. After reading the CPD article, I am knowledgeable about the legislation and policies relating to confidentiality and information management.

Picture credit: Alamy

Nurses should understand the law regarding confidentiality; they must act within the bounds of the law and be accountable for their actions. Under the Human Rights Act 1998, an individual has the ‘right to respect for his private and family life’ (Article 8), while the Mental Capacity Act 2005 empowers individuals to permit any information about them to be shared with others. The Data Protection Act 1998 sets out principles for handling information.

As part of their duty of care, nurses should not share information about a patient without their agreement. Consenting to treatment entails granting permission for information to be shared with the multidisciplinary team involved in that patient’s care. Nurses should ensure that information about a patient is not shared with anyone outside of that team.

Only the patient can decide if they wish confidential information about them to be shared with family members or friends. When a patient asks a nurse to keep information confidential, this should always be respected, except where there is a risk of harm to the patient or another person, and in certain circumstances involving children or vulnerable adults.

Patients should be supported to make their own decisions, and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 empowers nurses to act in their patients’ best interests if they lack the capacity to decide at that time.

Sensitive information

Information governance helps to ensure that sensitive information remains protected. Confidential information includes that related to illness, injury, disability, treatment and care. During a work placement, I observed how confidential information is obtained and managed. Information relating to patients and their treatment in electronic format must be password protected, in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Clear communication is fundamental in nursing. Without it, consent can be deemed invalid on the basis that a patient may not have been properly informed as to why they are required to give permission. I am keen to improve my communication skills, and to endeavour to find a private area in which to have confidential conversations with patients.

Respecting patients’ confidential information and their wishes about how such information can be shared is crucial in establishing good relationships and improving joint decision making. I intend to continue to adhere to good practice in relation to patient information in future placements.

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