Disclosing information to the coroner

Following recent events, the DDU has received a number of calls from members who have been asked to cooperate with the police by providing clinical records used to identify the deceased.

Despite the difficult circumstances, it is important that while assisting the police, the confidentiality of all patients is protected.

The duty to respect patient confidentiality extends beyond a patient's death. Information such as dental chartings and radiographs, can normally be disclosed to help identify a deceased patient as this would be justified as being in the public interest.

A coroner, or procurator fiscal in Scotland, is legally obliged to investigate the circumstances surrounding a death and can request dental records and additional relevant information about the deceased. Dental professionals must disclose records if requested to do so by a coroner.

We strongly recommend that you duplicate records to keep at the practice if the originals are requested. You should also contact the coroner or procurator fiscal beforehand if the records contain sensitive information that the deceased may not have wanted disclosed. The coroner or procurator fiscal can then decide how best to deal with the information at the inquiry.

The police do not have an automatic right to information about patients, so if the police ask for an individual's records it is important to establish if they are acting on behalf of the coroner or the procurator fiscal. If you have any doubts about a request for records, contact the DDU before releasing any information.

When a traumatic event takes place, our initial reaction is to want to do all we can to help. By ensuring the correct procedures are followed, the victims and their families can be helped while patient confidentiality is also respected.

This guidance was correct at publication 29/06/2017. 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.

David Lauder

by David Lauder Dento-legal adviser

David qualified from Newcastle Dental School in 2002. His post-graduate training included qualifications from the Eastman Dental Hospital and the Royal College of Surgeons, after which he worked in a number of dental settings in the UK and abroad. He has always pursued an interest in the legal aspects of dentistry and has a Master of Laws degree in the Legal Aspects of Medical Practice.

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