A father's right?

...The father wanted access to his child's records but the boy's mother did not want the information disclosed. The doctor was unsure who was right...

Mr B contacts a surgery in England where his child is a patient. He is not married to the child’s mother, Miss C, and the couple are now separated. He wants Dr F to give him access to the boy’s medical records so he can find out why his son has attended a number of recent appointments.

Miss C subsequently contacts Dr F to request that Mr B not be allowed access. She does not want Mr B to look at their son’s records and is also concerned he will have access to other sensitive information – including her address – which is noted within the records. Miss C is adamant that she does not want these details disclosed to her son’s father. Dr F is unsure of how to proceed and is concerned about harming the relationship he has with the child and Miss C.

Analysis and outcome

During a discussion with an MDDUS adviser, Dr F is informed that Mr B has a right to access his child’s records because he and the mother jointly registered the birth. The child’s date of birth – in this case August 2005 – is also significant in determining parental rights to access the records.

Doctors require the consent of children and young people with capacity before disclosing their records to anyone, even a parent. If the doctor deems a child lacks capacity – which applies in this case – then he should let those with parental responsibility access their child’s medical records if it does not go against the child’s best interests.

For children under 18 or, in Scotland under 16, any person with parental responsibility may apply for access to the records. It is important to remember that a mother always has parental responsibility for her child but not all fathers do. In relation to children born after December 1, 2003 (England and Wales), April 15, 2002 (Northern Ireland) and May 4, 2006 (Scotland), both biological parents have parental responsibility if they are registered on a child’s birth certificate.

For children born before these dates, the biological father will only automatically acquire parental responsibility if the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth or at some time thereafter. If the parents have never been married, only the mother automatically has parental responsibility, but the father may acquire that status by order or agreement.

The MDDUS adviser also highlighted GMC guidance on access to medical records which clearly states that “divorce or separation does not affect parental responsibility and you should allow both parents reasonable access to their children’s health records.” Dr F was also advised that Miss C’s address, and any other potentially sensitive third-party information is redacted from the notes before they are released to Mr B.

Key points

• Be aware of variations in national guidelines governing parental access to children’s records.
• Ensure sensitive third party information is redacted from records before disclosure