Medical records and your rights

Medical records and your rights

Doctors have a duty to keep proper medical records. Medical records relating to your care must also be kept confidential by GPs and hospital staff. However, you are entitled to get access to the records and can do so in several ways.

You can simply ask your doctor to see the records. You can secure the information under the Freedom of Information Act, under the Data Protection Act or through legal action.

The law relating to medical records is ill defined. Health authorities may argue that the actual medical records are the property of the doctor or the hospital. Much depends on whether your contract is with a doctor or a hospital or clinic.

However, the information contained in the records is information that is the rightful property of the patient. For example, should the patient wish to change doctor, the information in the records would be needed for their continuing care.

Under the Freedom of Information Act you can secure your records from public hospitals but this legislation does not cover private hospitals.

A doctor may refuse to disclose information in medical records to a patient, if he feels that this could cause serious harm to the physical or emotional well being of the patient. In such cases, the patient may request that the information be disclosed to a nominated person Ė for example another health professional.

Where a patient is deceased, access to medical records may be provided to a person who is administering the estate of the deceased, or the spouse or next of kin.


The key principle for doctors under Medical Council guidelines is that they must not disclose information about your care or illness to any other person, without your consent. A doctor who breaches confidentiality can be reported to the Medical Council and may face a hearing into his or her conduct. Confidentiality is the cornerstone of medical care.

This rule does not apply however, when the information is needed by a court of law. A doctor may also need to disclose details of a patientís care if it is in the patientís best interests or if an infectious disease is involved and must be reported. In other rare instances, a doctor may feel he must disclose something that a patient has told him during a consultation - to protect a third party.


Anonymous - 19/02/2004 14:30


Kathy(Kathy55) - 19/02/2004 19:06

I recently aapplied under the Freedom of Information Act to a major Dublin hospital for the medical records of my deceased son who was only 16 when he died, I wanted the records just for my own personal use but was told confidentality continued after the death of a person and I was refused access. However my son was under age and my consent was required for any surgical procedure he required before his death.

Peter(PGLennon) - 19/02/2004 20:32

The National GPIT Group (in association with the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Irish Medical Organisation have prepared a detailed Guide to the Data Protection Acts for Irish General Practice. The Guide sets out how information privacy legislation affects the collecting, using and disclosing of personal health information as well as dealing with patient access rights. A copy of the Guide is available on the GPIT website (

Anonymous - 20/02/2004 09:33

Does this apply to dental records as my experience is that they do not feel obliged to give you your records when you move.

Anonymous - 20/02/2004 12:59

In my experience, doctors are very careless when it comes to respecting the confidentiality of the patient. When I requested access to my medical records, my GP refused to deal with it for 6 months, saying he was busy, and was very angry when I insisted. The main reason for this, I believe, is arrogance. He seems to believe that he is in charge and I must do what he wants, not the other way around. Perhaps women doctors are more patient-friendly, or am I just unlucky with my GP?

Andrew(amurphy28) - 20/02/2004 17:57

I have had difficulty in gaining access to my medical records relating to seven years of treatment by a public consultant. The treatment was based on a misdiagnosis of Crohn's disease instead of coeliac disease, yet I have no access to my records to see why the diagnosis (and treatment) was never questioned. The response of the hospital was that I should request them through my solicitor

Anonymous - 02/03/2004 14:03

My understanding was that the hospital is obliged to give you copies of your medical records. I think the originals are the "property" of the hospital. However, in certain cases where a doctor considers that having access to the records could cause harm (psychological harm, presumably) to the patient, (s)he may recommend that access to the records is refused. This is my recollection of myunderstanding of the situation about 10 yrs ago and info. may not be accurate now.

Anonymous - 02/03/2004 15:03

The next of kin is legally entitled to the records oftheir dead relatives. These should be kept on file by the hospital for 7 years. If you have difficultyin gettign your son's records, see your solicitor and insist they are handed over to you. What they are telling you about confidentiality continuing after death is absolute nonsense. The confidentiality they hold is to the next of kin and if you demand the records, you have a right to them

marianne(magdalena) - 03/03/2004 17:07

About 2 years ago I had a test for an ugly mark spreading across my left shin. Due to a misunderstanding, I didn't return on the date,I got a stiff letter saying that as I had not come back I would have to get a letter from my own doctor,I pointed out the mistake was theirs, but they didn't answer, my doctor says there is nothing wrong but the patch continues to spread,it doesn't hurt or itch but it is very unsightly. What should I do next,please?

Anonymous - 04/03/2004 08:59

Go back to the hospital as soon as possible and insist on it being looked after. That is what you are paying your taxes for

Anonymous - 14/03/2004 13:37

You have every right to you medical records of any menber of your family who has died. ring up the free of infromation office it is in the phone book of an operator will get you the number. there are further steps you can take. in this day and age it is a right.

Anonymous - 18/05/2004 14:05

I have an aunt by marriage in hospital at the moment & she has put a nephew down as her next of kin. This nephew hasnt seen his aunt for the last 20 years. she is a little confused and just picked a name at random when she was admitted to hospital. It is now causing difficulties now as the hospital is refusing to discuss her medical condition with us as they say we are not named as her next of kin. I think this should be brought to the notice of hospitals authorities that old people can be confussed when they are being admitted to hospital. she has had a number of test done and no one knows the results. Carmel

Anonymous - 22/02/2006 14:27

Can I request to have my full medical records sent or given to me by a specific hospital? If the answer to the above question is YES, who is the person that i need to contact to be able to gain full access to all my medical files?

Mary - 22/02/2006 16:10

Your GP can request these for you.

ginger - 27/04/2006 11:00

you can get the files from the hospital yourself. You send them 6.35 euro's along with a data protection act 1998 and 2003 requesting all your files, either manual or on computer and the hospital have 40 days to send you your files, make sure you keep copies of all your letters and if you don't get your files then contact the Data Protection Office in Dublin

Daragh - 27/09/2006 23:22

YES BUT A DOCTORS SECRETARY HAS EQUAL ACCESS TO RECORDS BUT NO LEGAL DUTY OF CONFIDENTIALITY Hi, Does anyone know the position on the above comment (posted 2004) Its seems to me pointless discussing your (embarassing) medical problems in 'confidence' with your doctor only for it to be disclosed to the secretary for typing. It means having to have the same trust in the Secretary as in your Doctor even though they have not the same legal duty to confidentiality. By the way I don't mean to be disrespectfull to secretaries but it certainly undermines the 'one on one' trust you feel when talking to your Doctor.

Peter(PGLennon) - 28/09/2006 19:32

While it is true that clerical/administrative staff employed by GPs or hospitals are not formally bound by the law of confidence to the same extent as clinicians, any unauthorised disclosure by them of patient information is gross misconduct which allows for terminating their employment. In fact, many GPs require their staff to sign confidentiality statements which explicitly set out the employment consequences of wrongful disclosure. Similarly, in a hospital, most staff codes make it clear that unauthorised accessing or disclosing of medical records in a sackable offence. If employers do not enforce these rules against staff who break them, then the employer is likely to have to face the legal consequences of such inappropriate activities.

monya - 19/11/2011 20:37

I would like to know what a person should do where a Solicitor has requested and obtained medical records from a psychiatric hospital in 1996 without a patient's consent or identification being obtained. I only obtained copies of all correspondende between the Hospital and the Solicitor under the Freedom of Information in the past week. Records were submitted to the solicitor and now he says that he acted in good faith. My query is who was he representing, why he requested the information and for what purpose he sought the records. In my estimation it is not good practice and is a criminal offence on his behalf and I want him to explain who he was representing and to name them. The individual is very upset and feels that the Solicitor has jeopardised the patient's relationship with the Mental Health team and the patient who would manage the patient's mental health. What should be done to establish the truth of who was he representing?

Anonymous - 26/01/2012 14:17

Hi Monya, that is CERTAINLY out of order. The solictor does not have the right to have copies of your medical files without your consent, no matter how much "good faith" he is acting on and the hospital certainly has no business handing them over. Unless you are under 16 or declared, medically to be non-competent to manange your own health (from example a patient with certain types of dementia) - in which case your next of kin would be involved, then your medicla files are between your medical team, you and anyone you deem to have consent to access them - for example if your gave your solicitor permissio ot have your reconrd forn soem legal reason. Any other person needs ot have your consent.

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