This essay will discuss why confidentiality is important within nursing practice and the reasons why a registered nurse and student nurse are accountable and to whom they are accountable to in relation to patient care. It will further discuss patient’s rights in relation to law. Definition of Confidentiality, Bailliere’s Dictionary (2005) “Spoken, written or given in confidence” With this in mind the Nursing & Midwifery Council states: “As a registered Nurse, Midwife or Health Visitor, you are personally accountable for your practice.
In caring for patients and clients, you must protect confidential information” Therefore it is every patients and clients right to expect that any information that a nurse acquires during the course of them providing care will be held in confidence, (NMC, 2008). The Oxford English Dictionary (1995), defines ‘Confidence’ as: “Firm trust” If this is related to a nurse with patient or client relationships, then any information given confidentiality is central to trust.
The patient or client will make the decision whether they trust the nurse involved in their care, therefore a nurse should behave in a professional manner to gain their trust, with this in mind a nurse has a legal, ethical and professional responsibility to maintain confidentiality in accordance with clause 1. 2 of the Code of Professional Conduct, (NMC, 2008). Additionally, this links nurses and student nurses to the right to confidentiality being protected in law by:
“The common law duty of confidentiality which relates to the professional relationships that exists between the nurse and the patient or clients”; Article 8 of The European Convention on Human Rights alongside (The Human Rights Act , 1998) and also in accordance with the Data Protection Act (1998). This has now made confidentiality a legal barrier for nurses, so for them to understand all the legal implications within their job roles will become tough to follow, as agreed by Diamond (2005).
So in turn, the common duty law of confidence, thus enables nurses to protect themselves and also that of their patients or clients. Information that a nurse acquires or has access to should not be disclosed to third parties who are outside of the healthcare teams without the prior consent from their patients or clients in line with the Professional Code of Conduct clause 3 of the (NMC, 2008).
Consent can be quite tricky, a legal minefield for healthcare teams, this is due to the patients who will give or refuse to give private information about themselves who is legally competent but if the patient is deemed mentally incapable under the Mental Capacity Act (1995) of making his or her own decisions, then it can be taken upon by the professional teams who will take the patients best interests and make decisions for them.
The professional teams would have to inform the patients that some of their confidential information may have to be shared and this can be done orally, written or by co-operation by the patient with other professional teams, otherwise it would be very tedious if consent had to be gained every time but in accordance with the DPA (1998), it states within its 8 principles that information should be treated: 1. fairly and lawfully and at least one of the conditions of Schedule 2 should be met under the Department of Health’s guidance.
2.personal data to be processed for limited purposes and only in the manner for which it was obtained, 3. personal data to be kept secure, therefore this would limit the information being used and still keep confidentiality at the forefront for patient or clients. If a breach occurs, as it did in the case of Margaret Haywood, (Nursing Times, 2009), patients or clients have the right to privacy and confidentiality, Article 8 of the European Convention, if the breach has been lapsed then the person can face charges of negligence under The Human Rights Act (1998), DPA (1998), and NMC (2008).
The Professional Code of Conduct, clause 5. 3 of the NMC (2008), does state that there is a link between ethical and professional responsibility and requires nurses to protect confidential information and only disclose with either consent, court orders or by the law. If confidential information is required then these would be used for cases such as The Children’s Act (1989), Road Traffic Act (1998) and The Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provision 1998), Diamond (2005).
With all this in mind a patient or client will expect that a registered nurse and student nurses to keep his or her clinical records confidential and to be informed of how that information will be used within certain acts if and when it is appropriately needed. When patients give information orally to nurses, then it should be treated as confidential and not divulged to others , family or friends and as office gossip, as this could lead to their registration and the NMC being brought in to disrepute.