'You must treat information about patients and clients as confidential and use it only for the purpose for which it was given.' This essay explores the above statement taken from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (2002).

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‘You must treat information about patients and clients as confidential and use it only for the purpose for which it was given.’

This essay explores the above statement taken from the Nursing and Midwifery

Council (2002).

The aim of this essay is to demonstrate an understanding of issues that influence

professional practice and the ways in which care may be delivered to patients

regarding the issue of confidentiality.

Reference will be made to published literature to support the views put forward in this


Confidential information is information that is either identified by the patient as

confidential or is classified as confidential by applicable law or regulation.

Confidentiality has long been emphasised in nursing practice.

The Nightingale oath states that ‘every nurse should be one who is to be depended

upon, in other words capable of being a ‘confidential nurse’ she must be no gossip; no

vain talker; she should never answer questions about her sick except to those who

have the right to ask them. (Nightingale 1859).

This statement shows that confidentiality has long played an important role in nursing

care and it still plays a fundamental role in the profession today. However, as the

health care has developed in complexity, so the boundaries of confidentiality have

become increasingly difficult to define. (Mason and McCall).

Confidentiality is addressed as a vital ethical principle in health care and a breech of

confidentiality can result in disciplinary action.

Nurses have an obligation to maintain patient information as confidential, this

includes information disclosed directly and information that may be received from

other health professionals when caring for the patient.

The professional and ethical obligations for the nurse are set out in the Nursing and

Midwifery Council’s (NMC) new code of professional practice published in April

2002. It states that to trust another person with private and confidential information

about yourself is a significant matter. If the person that the information is given to is a

nurse, midwife or health visitor, then the patient has a right to believe that the

information given was given in confidence and that it will only be used for the

purpose for which it was given. (NMC 2002).

The United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting

code states that the nurse must protect all confidential information related to patients

which is obtained during the course of professional practice and that disclosures

should be made only with the consent of the patient,. Where required by the order of

the court or where disclosure can be justified by the wider interest of the public.

This obligation is also explored further by the UKCC (1996) ‘The nurses’ contract of

employment requires them to keep patient information confidential. Unauthorised

disclosure may lead nurses to be disciplined by their professional body.’

Patients have a right to expect that information about them will be held in confidence,

confidentiality is central to trust developed between the nurse and patient.

The nurse must ensure that from the beginning of the care being given, the patient is

aware that some information may be disclosed to third parties who are involved in the

provision of their care. If disclosure is necessary, then the information should be

disclosed on a ‘need to know’ basis. The Department Of Health (1996) says that this

includes NHS purposes where the recipient needs the information because he or she is

or may be concerned with the patients care or treatment, or that of another patient

whose health may be affected by the condition of the original patient, such as a blood

or organ donor.

When asked to provide information about patients the nurse must inform the patient

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about the disclosure, or check that they have already received information about it, the

information should also be anonymous where unidentifiable data will serve the

purpose. The disclosure should be kept to the minimum necessary and no unnecessary

information should be given.

When a nurse is responsible for confidential information about patients they should

make sure that it is protected against improper disclosure at all times.

Most improper disclosures are unintentional, therefore it should be made sure that

patient information is not discussed where it can be ...

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