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Access to medical records

Information

Individual patients may be entitled to get access to their medical records in a number of different ways:

The five ways listed above apply to patients of the public system, i.e. patients in public or publicly funded hospitals as well as Medical Card/GP Visit Card holders for GP services. If you visit your GP as a private patient or attend a private (non-HSE funded) hospital, you can only get access through Data Protection, by virtue of your contract with the medical service, or by court order.

For a list of HSE-funded hospitals, see 'More about this topic'.

Residents in both public and private nursing homes who are funded by the Nursing Home Support Scheme or other HSE subvention may get access to their medical records.

Confidentiality and disclosure

Doctors and other medical personnel and health institutions have a duty to maintain patients' records in confidence but there are some circumstances in which they may be obliged to give this information to third parties.

Their ethical duty with regard to confidentiality is set out in the Medical Council guidelines Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners (pdf).

There are some circumstances in which a health professional (or hospital) may disclose confidential medical records to others - for example, if the patient consents to such disclosure or when it is required by a court. It seems that it may also be ethical to disclose medical records if it would be in the patient's best interests or, if necessary, to protect another person or society generally. There are certain legal requirements to disclose information, for example, in relation to infectious diseases. Doctors are obliged to report incidences of specified infectious diseases to the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

The confidentiality of personal information such as medical records is protected by both the Data Protection Acts and the Freedom of Information Acts. Under these Acts, third parties may not get access to personal information except under exceptional circumstances. These third parties would be parents/guardians and personal representatives.

Administrative access to HSE records

Generally, access to your own health record should be provided administratively, having regard to privacy, confidentiality and the public interest.

Personal Information
Apply in writing to the appropriate service or agency, (e.g. for hospital records apply to the Hospital Manager). You should provide sufficient information to help in locating your files, including your date of birth, current and previous addresses, the contacts you had with specific services and approximate dates.

You may also be asked for proof of identity, for example providing a copy of your current passport or driver’s license. This is in order to protect your confidentiality.

There will usually be no charge for copies of personal records. However, the health agency has the right to charge, if the quantity of records is very large, for photocopying and for X-ray copies. (See scale of charges below).

Exceptions
If access to a record or to information cannot be provided to you directly under administrative access, you will be informed of this and advised of the option of making an application under the FOI Act. Likewise, certain information may be of such a sensitive nature that requests for access can only be dealt with under the FOI legislation.

Examples of this type of sensitive information would include, a deceased person's health record, documents relating to suspected child abuse, documents revealing the involvement and deliberations of an investigation into alleged sexual abuse, documents relating to testing for HIV/ Aids etc.

Type of charges for Administrative Access
Application fee None
Photocopying fee* 4 cent per page
Per copy x-ray €6.35
CD Rom €10.16
Per copy floppy disk 51 cent

* Photocopying charges will only be levied where there are a large number of copies requested.

Data protection and FOI

Data protection

The data protection legislation requires that data held must be accurate and up to date. Under the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003, an individual is entitled to find out if there is information about himself/herself held on record, to access those records and to have them corrected if they are inaccurate. This is the case no matter who holds the record - it could be held by a doctor or other medical professional, or by a hospital or other institution, or by the Health Service Executive (HSE) or by anyone else. The holder of the data has a duty to disclose and correct.

There is a limited exception to this duty to disclose to the person to whom the records refer where disclosure is likely to cause serious harm to the physical or mental health or emotional condition of the person.

The Data Protection Commissioner has a number of leaflets, including A Guide to Your Rights (pdf). The Commissioner deals with problems in relation to data protection.

Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 1997 as amended by the Freedom of Information Act (Amendment) 2003 provides for, among other things, individual right of access to personal records held by the public bodies to which the Act applies. Medical records are personal records. The FOI Act applies to the Health Service Executive (HSE) and to voluntary hospitals as well as to a number of health agencies. It does not apply to private hospitals. It applies to records held by GPs in relation to patients who are medical card holders. It does not apply to the records of private patients.

If you want to access records under the FOI Act, you should apply to the public body that holds them (the Health Service Executive (HSE) is considered to hold the records of medical card holders).

There is a particular procedure that must be followed in respect of medical information where the head of the public body is of the opinion that its disclosure to you may be prejudicial to your health or emotional well being. In these circumstances, if you ask them to do so, the public body must instead release the record to an appropriate health professional nominated by you.

FOI requests should be addressed to the FOI Unit of the public body or office holding the records.

Access to a child's or mentally incapable person's records

In general, the FOI Act gives a right of access to personal information to the individual the information concerns.

There is a procedure whereby parents or guardians can access personal information about a minor. The Act also allows parents/guardians to access personal information about an adult who is incapable of exercising his/her rights under the Act because of mental incapacity or severe physical disability. The person must be certified by a doctor as being in this category.

The access in both cases will only be granted if the head of the public body concerned considers it would be in the best interests of the person concerned.

Access to a deceased person's records

In the case of a deceased person, access to the personal information may be granted:

  • to the personal representative who is administering the estate of the deceased
  • to a person who is performing some legal function in relation to the individual or the estate of the individual
  • to the spouse (including a divorced spouse or cohabitee), or next of kin or such other person as the head of the public body considers appropriate.

Disputes about access to records under the FOI Act should be addressed to the Information Commissioner.

Court cases

Discovery

Patients and others may access medical records for the purpose of court cases if they get a court order of "discovery". The court may order a hospital or doctor to disclose or "discover" documents or medical records to a plaintiff's advisers where those documents are considered relevant to the issues involved in the court proceedings.

Where to apply

Health Service Executive

Information Line

Opening Hours:Monday to Saturday, 8am-8pm
Tel:Call Save 1850 24 1850
Email: info@hse.ie

Data Protection Commissioner

Canal House
Station Road
Portarlington
Laois
Ireland

Opening Hours:09:15-17:30
Tel:+353 57 868 4800
Locall:1890 252231
Fax:+353 57 868 4757
Homepage: http://www.dataprotection.ie
Email: info@dataprotection.ie

Office of the Information Commissioner

18 Lower Leeson Street
Dublin 2
Ireland

Tel:+353 (0)1 639 5689
Locall:1890 223 030
Fax:+353 (0)1 639 5674
Homepage: http://www.oic.gov.ie
Email: info@oic.gov.ie


FOI Central Policy Unit

Department of Public Expenditore and Reform
7-9 Merrion Row
Dublin 2
Ireland

Tel:+353 (0)1 631 8258
Fax:+353 (0)1 604 5750
Homepage: http://foi.gov.ie/home/
Email: cpu@finance.gov.ie

Further information

Hospital care is provided in public and private hospitals. There is no legal definition of public or private hospitals in the Health Acts.

Broadly speaking, there are three different types of hospital but there is very little difference in practice between the first two types:

  • Hospitals owned and funded by the HSE
  • Voluntary hospitals most of whose income comes directly from the state; Generally, they have agreements with the HSE under Section 38 of the Health Act 2004. This section allows the HSE to enter into an arrangement with a person for the provision of a health and personal social service by that person on behalf of the HSE. Some voluntary hospitals are owned by private bodies (often religious orders) while others are incorporated by Charter or established by statute and are run by boards. In some cases, the Minister for Health appoints some members of the boards.
  • Private hospitals which receive no direct state funding (they may get funding to treat patients under the NTPF arrangements)

The following are listed as public hospitals by the HSE:

Bantry General Hospital
Beaumont Hospital (voluntary)

Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital (voluntary)
Cavan / Monaghan Hospital Group
Children's University Hospital, Temple Street (voluntary)
Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown
Coombe Women's Hospital (voluntary)
Cork University Hospital
Cork University Maternity Hospital
Galway University Hospitals

Kerry General Hospital

Letterkenny General Hospital
Lourdes Orthopaedic Hospital, Kilcreene
Louth County Hospital, Dundalk

Mallow General Hospital
Mater Misericordiae University Hospital (voluntary)
Mayo General Hospital
Mercy University Hospital, Cork (voluntary)
Mid Western Regional Hospital, Dooradoyle
Mid Western Regional Hospital, Ennis
Mid Western Regional Hospital, Nenagh
Mid Western Regional Maternity Hospital Limerick
Mid Western Regional Orthopaedic Hospital Croom
Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar
Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise
Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore

Naas General Hospital
National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street (voluntary)

Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda
Our Lady's Hospital, Navan
Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin (voluntary)

Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe

Roscommon County Hospital
Rotunda Hospital (voluntary)
Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital (voluntary)

Sligo General Hospital
South Infirmary-Victoria Hospital, Cork (voluntary)
South Tipperary General Hospital
St Colmcille's Hospital, Loughlinstown
St James's Hospital (voluntary)
St John's Hospital Limerick (voluntary)
St Luke's General Hospital Kilkenny
St Luke's Hospital, Rathgar (voluntary)
St Mary's Orthopaedic Hospital, Cork
St Michael's, Dun Laoghaire (voluntary)
St Vincent's University Hospital, Elm Park (voluntary)

Tallaght Hospital – its correct title is the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children's Hospital; (voluntary)

Waterford Regional Hospital
Wexford General Hospital

Other voluntary hospitals
The following are the voluntary hospitals which are subject to the FOI legislation and which are not included in the above list:

Central Remedial Clinic
City of Dublin Skin and Cancer Hospital (this was established by Charter in 1916. It closed in 2006 and its services have transferred to St Vincent’s University Hospital, Elm Park).
Dublin Dental Hospital
Incorporated Orthopaedic Hospital of Ireland
Leopardstown Park Hospital
National Rehabilitation Hospital
Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross
Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children
Royal Hospital, Donnybrook
St. Francis Hospice
St. Mary's Hospital and Residential School (this has been taken over by St Michael’s House which is itself subject to FOI)
St. Patrick's Hospital / Marymount Hospice
St. Vincent's Hospital, Fairview

The FOI legislation also applies to services for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. Some of these services may be in what are generally regarded as hospitals (for example, Peamount Hospital).

Page updated: 16 September 2010

Language

Gaeilge

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