BACKGROUND: Mrs L has been in regular telephone contact with her general practice over the past few weeks regarding numerous issues including availability of appointments and repeat prescriptions. There has been some disagreement over the exact nature of what has been discussed and Mrs L has now requested copies of the recordings of her calls with the practice.
The practice is unsure how best to respond to the request. GP, Dr F, is concerned about the privacy of the receptionist who features in the phone calls and is worried about what Mrs L might do with the recording, such as posting it online. He seeks advice from MDDUS.
ANALYSIS/OUTCOME: Under the Data Protection Act (DPA), individuals have a right to access their personal data – including that contained in electronic recordings – in an intelligible form by making a subject access request.
Dr F is therefore advised to provide Mrs L with a copy of the recordings. For ease, the practice could offer her a transcript of the calls or invite her to listen to the calls at the practice, but she has the right to ask for a copy of the audio recording. The DPA stipulates that this can be provided for a maximum subject access request fee of £10 plus any photocopying costs.
In terms of the privacy concerns, the DPA has a provision to protect third parties who could be identified from the information being requested. If the request for disclosure cannot be met without identifying a third party then, unless that third party consents, it is not necessary to comply. In this case, however, the identity of the receptionist is already known to Mrs L so there would be no breach of confidentiality in that regard and this would not be grounds to refuse the request.
Dr F is also advised that Mrs L has the right to use the recording as she wishes, which may include making it available publicly, i.e. online.
- Patients have the right to access personal data held about them by practices, including audio recordings.
- Concern over how the patient might use the data is not reason enough to refuse a subject access request.