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Confidential information guidance for professional

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  1. What is Confidential Information?
  2. When is Confidence breached?
  3. When can you share Confidential Information without consent?
  4. Sharing without consent in the public interest
  5. What factors are important before deciding to share confidential Information?
  6. What are different types of circumstances that are relevant to confidentiality

1. What is Confidential Information?

Confidential information is:

  • personal information of a private or sensitive nature; and
  • information that is not already lawfully in the public domain or readily available from another public source; and
  • information that has been shared in circumstances where the person giving the information could reasonably expect that it would not be shared with others.

2. When is Confidence breached?

Confidence is only breached where the sharing of confidential information is not authorised by the person who provided it or to whom it relates. If the information was provided on the understanding that it would be shared with a limited range of people or for limited purposes, then sharing in accordance with that understanding will not be a breach of confidence. Similarly, there will not be breach of confidence where there is explicit consent to the sharing.

3. When can you share Confidential Information without consent?

Even where sharing of confidential information is not authorised by the person who provided it or to whom it relates, practitioners may lawfully share it if this can be justified in the public interest. Seeking consent should be the first option, if appropriate. Where consent cannot be obtained to the sharing of the information or is refused, the question of whether there is a sufficient public interest must be judged by the practitioner on the facts of each case. Therefore, where a practitioner has a concern about a child or young person, they should not regard refusal of consent as necessarily precluding the sharing of confidential information.

4. Sharing without consent in the public interest

It is possible to identify some circumstances in which sharing confidential information without consent will normally be justified in the public interest. These are:

  • When there is evidence that the child is suffering or is at risk of suffering significant harm
  • Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child may be suffering or at risk of significant harm
  • To prevent significant harm arising to children and young people or serious harm to adults, including through the prevention, detection and prosecution of serious crime.
  • Serious crime for the purposes of this guidance means any crime which causes or is likely to cause significant harm to a child or young person or serious harm to an adult.

5. What factors are important before deciding to share confidential Information?

The key factors in deciding whether or not to share confidential information are necessity and proportionality, i.e. whether the proposed sharing is a proportionate response to the need to protect the public interest in question, for example to take action to protect the person, to promote a person's safety and well-being or to prevent crime and disorder. In making the decision, practitioners must weigh up what might happen if the information is shared against what might happen if it is not, and make a decision based on a reasonable judgement.

6. What are different types of circumstances that are relevant to confidentiality

One is where a formal confidential relationship exists, as between a doctor and patient, or between a social worker, counsellor or lawyer and their client. Here it is generally accepted that information is provided in confidence. In these circumstances all information provided by the individual needs to be treated as confidential. This is regardless of whether or not the information is directly relevant to the medical, social care or personal matter that is the main reason for the relationship.

Sometimes people may not specifically ask you to keep information confidential when they discuss their own issues or pass on information about others, but may assume that personal information will be treated as confidential.

Confidence is only breached where the sharing of confidential information is not authorised by the person who provided it or, if about another person, by the person to whom it relates.

Information about an individual or family is confidential to the agency as a whole, and not to individual practitioners. However individual practitioners do have a responsibility to maintain the confidentiality of the information. They should only share confidential information with other practitioners in the same agency or team for genuine purposes, for example, to seek advice on a particular case or ensure cover for work while on leave.

Public bodies that hold information of a private or sensitive nature about individuals for the purposes of carrying out their functions (for example children's social care, young people's health services or adult mental health services) may also owe a duty of confidentiality, as people have provided information on the understanding that it will be used for those purposes.

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