Patient rights and ownership of records

Patients have a right to access their records under data protection law.

Who owns patient records?

  • NHS hospital and community dental service records are the property of the appropriate trust or health board.
  • NHS General Dental Services (GDS) records are arguably the property of the individual contractor and/or primary care organisation. NHS authorities have certain rights of access to these records under NHS regulations.
  • Dental records for private patients are the property of the individual dental professional or practice, but the legal position of the ownership of private patients' radiographs is uncertain.

It can be argued the patient has paid for the report or opinion from the radiograph, rather than for the film itself. But patients might claim that because they have been charged, the film is their property, even though the dental professional can retain it with all the other elements of that patient's records.

Access and accuracy

Under data protection law, patients have a right to access their records. They are also entitled to challenge the validity of records and to have factual errors corrected.

You should outline patients' rights to their records in your practice literature.

  • Patient records, both private and NHS, are not the patient's property. Patients are not entitled to take possession of the originals. However, under data protection legislation they have a right to view their original records and to obtain copies of them free of charge.
  • A patient cannot stipulate the content of their records.
  • Dental professionals do not have to agree to requests for amendments or deletions, except to correct a factual error.
  • An entry in the patient's records should not be amended simply because the patient doesn't like it.

If a patient insists on removing a radiograph from the records, you should tell them they are then responsible for the radiograph's safe-keeping.

Tell the patient that if they lose it, any dentist treating them in the future will not have the clinical benefits of access to it. The fact that the patient has taken the radiograph should be recorded in the notes. Try and retain a copy.

Any disagreement over facts in the records should be noted, signed and dated in the records.

This page was correct at publication on 20/09/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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