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Breaching Patients Confidentiality


Dr X contacted MDS to get advice in relation to breaching patient confidentiality when patient and public safety was at risk. Dr X informed us that one of his patient who was admitted to hospital due to alcohol abuse, had a Shotgun license. The patient also had a history of alcohol abuse.

The patient had not agreed to disclose the incident to gun control officer.  Dr X wanted advice on whether he could breach the patient’s confidentiality by informing the police about the incident. Dr X was worried that the patient’s and public safety was at risk.


MDS reviewed the matter and gave the following advice:

If Dr X has a good reason to believe that the gun licence holder could be impaired, or become impaired as a consequence of intoxication, to the extent that could lose their sense of judgement, and be in possession of a firearm, then it is entirely appropriate and in accordance with the GMC Good Medical Practice to breach confidentiality to safeguard the patient’s and public safety.

It was also advised that the patient should be made aware of the actions Dr X have taken and the rationale behind it. It was advised to do this in writing.


Dr X contacted the gun control officer and disclosed his concerns about the patient and public safety, and wrote to the patient to update them on the steps he had taken, and the reasons why.


Under the GMC Good Medical Practice, disclosing personal information may be justified in the public interest if failure to do so may expose others to a risk of death or serious harm. The benefits to an individual or to society of the disclosure must outweigh both the patient’s and the public interest in keeping the information confidential.

Inform the patient about your intention to disclose personal information and the rationale behind it, unless it is not safe or practicable to do so.

Communication with the patient should be done in writing.