Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Confidentiality when seeing the GP

Appointments with the GP are confidential regardless of a person’s age. Doctors and nurses have very strict rules on confidentiality so that everything a patient tells them, their personal details and medical records are kept completely private. However, a GP might encourage a patient to tell others (like a parent) about the problem, or they can speak to them on the patient’s behalf if they’d prefer. This is because sometimes it’s important for those looking after a person to know what’s going on as they might be able to help or support them. The doctor might encourage a young person to tell their parent or guardian, but should respect a patient’s wishes if they don’t want to. If a patient is under 16 and doesn’t want to involve their parents, the doctor can treat them without telling their parents as long as the young person fully understands the choices they’re making. In exceptional cases, though, like when a health professional thinks a young person might be in serious danger, they may need to pass information to police or social services. Even then they must talk to the person first before they tell anyone else, unless that would put someone at risk of harm.

Auberon felt that GPs, receptionists and pharmacists all respected a patient’s confidentiality:
Surgery staff, such as receptionists, are never told of a patient’s confidential consultations (appointments), but they do have access to people’s records so that they can type letters and carry out other admin duties. They’re not allowed to look at patients’ notes for any other purpose, and nor are they allowed to discuss any information about patients outside work. The receptionist might ask questions when someone makes an appointment. No one has to give them any details if they don’t want to, but it can help the receptionist direct them to the best person, whether that’s a GP, nurse, or another member of the team.
Some people, like Lara and Auberon, were confident that GP consultations were confidential, and Lara thought it would be ‘pretty stupid’ if GPs ‘go around telling people’. Jalé, like Shane, had always felt that appointments with the GP were confidential. If someone attended the appointment with her, the doctor would ask her if she was happy with them being there.
When Aaron was younger, he and everyone in his family had the same GP. Even though this doctor knew the whole family, Aaron was certain that his appointments with her were confidential. He also knew the surgery receptionist and was sure that confidentiality would be practised by her too. Emma’s GP worked alongside her dad, who was also a GP. When she was younger she sometimes wondered if her doctor would keep the appointment confidential. Now, though, she ‘wouldn’t have any doubt that they would keep something confidential’.
Lucy trusted that her appointment with the GP was confidential, though sometimes checked ‘more out of worry’ to make sure. She was always reassured that the GP wouldn’t discuss the appointment with her dad. Sophie felt that, for a lot of young people, ‘it’s very unclear about what’s confidential and what’s not, and whether they use it to tell your parents if you’re under 16’.

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