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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:
 

The receptionist sometimes asks Auberon why he’d like to see the practice nurse. She doesn’t ask for many details, though, and is never nosey.

The receptionist sometimes asks Auberon why he’d like to see the practice nurse. She doesn’t ask for many details, though, and is never nosey.

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And when you go to the GP receptionist, does she ever say, "Oh what would you like to see the GP for?" Or anything like that?

She…only if you're a walk-in patient then yes, because you'll be seen by a nurse. So it would mainly be cuts, dressing changes, anything like that. But she wouldn’t go into a huge lot of detail about it. She wouldn’t need it. It's for the nurse to know. But say it was a cut, she would just put, 'Cut on leg' or whatever but that’s about it.

And so you feel comfortable about that?

Yeah.

You don’t feel in any way she's being nosey?

No, no, I don’t feel, because she's not going into too much detail about how you got the cut, or where did the cut from or…you know what I mean? Or was it self-harm, was it not, blah de blah de blah. So I think that should all be down to a nurse because…to ask her, or if a young person wants to tell the nurse, then they should definitely. But I don’t think that the receptionist, are being nosey at all, no.
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.
 

A GP talks about confidentiality at doctors’ surgeries and sexual health clinics.

A GP talks about confidentiality at doctors’ surgeries and sexual health clinics.

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Confidentiality plays a big role within the GP service. So how do you go about confidentiality and when is it an important issue?

Yeah, I mean it’s important all the time. The basic rule is that: whatever the patient tells the doctor stays with the doctor. It gets complicated when you have people under 16 because their parents have responsibility for them. But doctors must act in the best interests of the child. And if the 14 year old understands exactly what’s going on and is adamant that they don’t want their parents to know, then there may be cases when things like contraception might be prescribed without necessarily alerting the parents.

Okay, is there a situation when you have to inform the parent about their child?

There are situations where you may want to let other people know that’s going on particularly if you’re worried about the welfare of that child. So if, for example, a 14 year old was having a relationship with a much older person, then you may think that that child needs some help. It raises something called safeguarding issues about whether that child might be being exploited. So in that situation you would talk to the child about it but you would probably need to break that confidence.
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.
 

Louis definitely trusts that his GP appointments are confidential unless it was something serious.

Louis definitely trusts that his GP appointments are confidential unless it was something serious.

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Do you trust that your appointment is confidential?

Oh yeah, definitely, I'd trust that they won't…they're not just going to go and blab to like the receptionist about what's happened, and trust that it's kind of all confidential. 

And if you went on your own to see your… to see your doctor without your mum, do you feel that appointment will be confidential or does it depend?

I think, I think it depends on how serious it is. So maybe they might have to call my parents if it's like really serious, but I don’t know, that’s what I think.
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’.
 

Aaron and his family sometimes saw the GP at church but their health was never discussed. ‘Everything was confidential’.

Aaron and his family sometimes saw the GP at church but their health was never discussed. ‘Everything was confidential’.

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I think everything was confidential. But yeah, we lived in like a little parish area and you’d see maybe, cos we went to church when we were younger, and you’d see the GP there and maybe ‘Hi there, how are you?’ and then. But just small talk, but yeah nothing would ever be said in front of anyone, not even like family members, obviously because of confidentiality. So yeah, they were really good on that sort of stuff. And even with the receptionist being like my friend’s mum was absolutely fine, no problems at all.
 

Emma has no doubts that all her GP appointments are confidential. This might be more of a worry for younger people.

Emma has no doubts that all her GP appointments are confidential. This might be more of a worry for younger people.

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Did you ever worry about confidentiality? That this doctor may have known your parents. Did you ever worry that…?

No, never.

No?

No, never. Because like it’s just not a GP in, you know, it’s obviously not in the rule book. I think, you know, maybe slightly there was like, “Oh, my God, what if they tell my dad?” you know. Because especially if you’re a teenager or whatever, then - You know, I’ve, I had really bad acne as a teenager and, you know, I was really embarrassed about it and going to see someone was quite a big deal to me. 

And, you know, there was maybe an initial like, “Oh, God, you know, like what…?” Because she suggested like, you know, going on the pill. And like in my, in the back of my head it was, “Oh, my God, what if dad finds out about this?” You know, it was like just a completely irrational thought because of course they can’t say anything. And it, like she, obviously they would never. But in, so in that situation you maybe get a slight inkling. But you get over that, I mean especially as you grow up. It’s not a big deal at all. No, I would never, I 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’.
 

Sophie feels that it would be helpful to have more information in GP surgeries and elsewhere about the confidentiality of doctor’s appointments.

Sophie feels that it would be helpful to have more information in GP surgeries and elsewhere about the confidentiality of doctor’s appointments.

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Did you feel that you could trust the GP, that what you were saying was confidential?

Yeah and no. I think 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 sixteen, and that kind of thing. So, to be honest, I wasn’t really worried about it but I think for a lot of young people they do get very confused about whether it's going to be kept confidential or not.

So more information even in surgeries?

Yeah…[talked together] Yeah, literally just some information to tell you whether or not it will be confidential.
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