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. The legal position of the ownership of private patients' radiographs is, however, uncertain. It can be argued the patient has paid for the report or opinion from the radiograph, and not for the film itself. But patients may claim that as they have been charged, the film is their property, even though the dental professional may 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.
  • 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 does not like it.

If a patient insists on removing a radiograph from the records, they should be advised that they are then responsible for the radiograph's safe-keeping. Inform 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.

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

This guidance was correct at publication 22/05/2018. It 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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