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As a pharmacist, would you give out confidential patient information to the police?

A reminder of this weeks scenario.

A local police officer asks to speak to you. She has one of your methadone patients in custody and needs some information from you. The patient is accused of a crime, but has said that at the time it took place he was collecting his methadone.

The police officer asks you to corroborate his story and asks to look in the CD register. Also, the patient cannot remember what dose of methadone he is on, so the officer asks you to tell her, so that the duty doctor can prescribe it for the patient. 

Do you agree to the police officers requests?

Thanks for voting. The poll was quite split down the middle.
Would you provide the police officer with the information she is requesting?

We did have some very well informed comments this week. I have transcribed my pick of the comments below. Thanks to Garry McDonald for taking the time to write the comment. Follow him on Twitter @garry42779.

“This, or similar has happened to me on numerous occasions. Consent from the patient must first be sought and confirmed.

You must not disclose personal information to a third-party such as a solicitor, police officer or officer of a court without the patient’s express consent, unless it is required by law or can be justified in the public interest. Even when a patient has been accused of committing a serious crime, if they are in police custody and therefore not a risk to the public, their consent should be sought if possible.

If the patient refuses to consent the police may be able to get a court order compelling disclosure of certain information. Only that information which is specified in the court order should be disclosed.

You must disclose information if ordered to do so by a judge or presiding officer of a court (court order).

However, you should object to the judge or the presiding officer if attempts are made to compel you to disclose what appears to you to be irrelevant information, such as information about a patient’s relative who is not involved in the proceedings.

The police may quote section 29(3) of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) citing that due to this legislation, consent is not required.

However, a pharmacist has an ethical duty of confidentiality, and must be able to justify a decision to disclose information without the patient’s consent.

Only Police Controlled Drug Liaison Officers have the authority to enter pharmacy premises under section 23(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Civilian CDLO’s are duly authorised by the Secretary of State for Health under section 20 (5) (a) of the Health Act 2006.

Under the Health Act 2006, CDLO’s as police officers as well as civilian staff have the power to examine the records and stocks of controlled drugs in retail pharmacies and other health care premises to ensure controlled drugs are being prescribed and then sold or supplied in accordance with the Misuse of Drugs regulations.

In Scotland, the system of precognition means there can be limited disclosure of information in advance of a criminal trial, to both the Crown and Defence, without the patient’s express consent.

The disclosure must be confined solely to the nature of injuries, the patient’s mental state, or pre-existing conditions or health, documented by the examining doctor, and their likely causes. If they want further information, either side may apply to the court to take a precognition on oath. If that happens, you will be given advance warning and you should seek legal advice about what you can and cannot disclose.

If the FME (Forensic Medical Examiner) or Police Doctor requires this information, they should contact the pharmacist in the first instance.

However, the time of collection will not be recorded, so would this information be relevant to ascertain their whereabouts?

The dose information can then be disclosed on a professional to professional basis, and a note made in patient records or CD register. If the FME then chooses to disclose this to a police officer, then that’s their look out.

Always be wary of such phone calls, even from those pertaining to be from GPs as you don’t know who is on the other end of the phone. I have had on occasion calls to ask how much methadone someone is on, or if they have picked up that day already.

This can inform those that the patient is in debt to how much they obtain (especially on a bank holiday weekend) and if they still have to show up to the pharmacy that day, and possibly be ambushed.

Take their details and call them back on the number you have for that surgery, NOT the number they give you. A genuine healthcare professional will understand the safeguard check, well most do!”

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