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Fri, 25 September 2020

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Doctors reminded of duty to reprot suspected terrorism

Medical Defence Union

2 min read Partner content

With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Copenhagen and elsewhere, doctors are being reminded about their legal duty to disclose information about patients which might prevent a terrorist act.

While doctors have a duty of confidentiality to their patients, if they become aware of information about a patient which they believe might be relevant in preventing a terrorist act, they are legally obliged to tell the police.

Dr Beverley Ward, MDU medico-legal adviser, said:

"We know from calls to our advice line that doctors are sometimes told information which might make them suspect that a person is involved in terrorist activity. This can present a dilemma as they wonder whether they should pass this information on to the authorities.

"The GMC's Confidentiality guidance recognises that doctors may sometimes be justified in disclosing information about patients in the public interest to assist in the prevention, detection or prosecution of serious crime, particularly where violence is involved.

"However, there are some situations where a doctor is legally obliged to disclose information about patients and this includes information which might prevent a terrorist act.

"Under section 38B of the Terrorism Act 2000, it is a criminal offence for a person to fail to disclose information to the police which they know or believe might be relevant in preventing an act of terrorism or securing the arrest, prosecution or conviction of a person for a terrorist act. Someone convicted of this offence may be sentenced to up to five years in prison or could be fined."

The government has issued guidance for healthcare professionals which includes advice on identifying the signs that someone may be vulnerable to radicalisation1. However, the advice reassures doctors that they are not expected to take on a surveillance role.

Dr Ward continued:

"If a doctor becomes aware of information about, or provided by a patient, that they know or believe might be relevant to preventing a terrorist act, or securing the arrest or prosecution of someone involved in terrorism, then they are legally required to tell the police. In such situations, doctors should disclose the relevant information for the purpose promptly to the appropriate person or authority.

"In view of the complexity of these issues, we advise our members to contact the MDU for individual advice when considering disclosing information." 

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