What does ‘confidential’ mean when it comes to medical staff?
Doctors and nurses involved in your care and treatment can share information with other people who are also trying to help you get better – for example, specialist doctors like dermatologists, cardiologists, psychiatrists. But they need to get your permission to tell anyone else.
The only other reasons for not keeping things confidential are:
- if they think you can’t understand or make choices about care, treatment and testing for yourself
- if they think you’re in immediate danger or might harm yourself
Will my parents or carers find out?
In general, your meetings with medical staff are private and everything about them must remain confidential.
However, if your doctor or nurse think you are in danger or are about to harm yourself, they can get other people involved to help make sure you stay safe.
If you’re ill (or pregnant), it’s usually a good idea to get support from your parents or carers.
If this is out of the question, get support wherever you can – other relatives, teachers or friends. Be aware, however, that other people you tell might not keep it secret.
What should I tell the doctor or nurse?
The more information you give them, the better they’ll be able to help you:
- be as clear as you can about what you think the problem is
- say how you feel and how it’s affecting your day-to-day life, work and relationships
- tell them about any physical symptoms – aches and pains, stomach upsets, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- tell them about any medicines or illegal drugs you’ve been taking
- tell them about any troubling thoughts or feelings – especially if you’ve been thinking about death or taking your own life
- tell them about any upsets or stresses – it’s helpful if your doctor understands what’s going on in your life
Making a list of what you want to say is useful – take it with you when you go so you don’t forget anything.
Alternatively, talk through what you want to say with a trusted friend and take them with you.
Will I be tested for drink or drugs?
Drugs tests are only relevant if the doctor thinks it could help them understand what the problem is.
If you’re able to fully understand what’s involved, this will only happen if you give permission for the test to take place.
The results of any test will remain confidential.
I’ve had underage sex – will anyone else find out if I tell my doctor?
Not unless they also think you are in danger or might harm yourself and that withholding this information could put you in further danger.
What if I’m pregnant?
Even if you’re pregnant, medical staff will keep it confidential.
If you decide to have an abortion, as long as the doctor believes you can fully understand what will happen, it will remain confidential.
However, deciding to have a child or to have an abortion are serious decisions you shouldn’t have to face on your own.
If you can’t get support from your parents or carers, get support wherever you can – other relatives, teachers or friends. Be aware, however, that other people you tell might not keep it secret.
If I need treatment or tests, will I need a parent’s or carer’s permission?
So long as medical staff believe you fully understand what’s involved, including any risks, you don’t need to get permission (consent) from your parents or carers.
If this is the case, the results of any test will remain confidential.
What if I don’t want treatment or tests?
If you can fully understand what’s involved in choosing or not choosing to have a treatment or any kind of medical test, this is your choice.
Some treatments can be scary, but this is not a good reason for refusing them.
Medical staff will always try to explain what’s involved in ways you can understand. They will also explain what the risks are in choosing not to have a treatment.
For more information on treatments, why not visit the NHS Inform website?