People are often unaware whether or not they are entitled to see their own medical notes. They may want to check something in their medical history or find out what medication they have taken in the past. They may even be considering a case against their doctor and want a specialist solicitor to review their records prior to taking any further action.

The Data Protection Act 1998 was created by Parliament in order to comply with the UK’s obligations under EC law to enable people to have access to information. It provides that any individual is entitled to have access to information which is held about them within a period of 40 days provided that an appropriate fee is paid. Government ministers have given a commitment to Parliament that the NHS will comply within 21 days and all GP’s and NHS Trusts have been told to honour this commitment.

The fee is presently a maximum of £50 inclusive of VAT. Many health authorities feel that the fee of £50 is too low in light of the amount of copying entailed with some notes. Conversely, some people feel that £50 is too high a fee when all they want to do is see their own notes. It must be remembered that the fee is intended to be set at a level which, whilst discouraging frivolous claims, will not prevent any person from having access to their records if they want them.

Access to your own health records can only be refused if to do so would cause serious harm to your physical or mental health (or to another person’s). In reality, it is difficult to see how this exception could apply to anything other than psychiatric records. If there is any information within the records which relates to a third party, other than a medic who has treated you, then this must be removed.

If you wish to obtain the records of a deceased relative and you can show that you are an executor or administrator to their estate then the request must be made under the Access to Health Records Act 1990.

On the whole, therefore, we are all entitled to see our medical records within a reasonable period of time provided we pay the appropriate fee and there can be no harm to either our health or that of another by disclosing them.

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