It’s a dilemma that will be familiar to most mental health professionals – when is it appropriate to share information about a patient with someone who cares for them? How do you balance a patient’s right to confidentiality with a carer’s right to information?
This issue was highlighted in the recent report from Dame Fiona Caldicott on information governance in the NHS, Information: to share or not to share.
The report found that when it comes to sharing information, a culture of anxiety persists in the health and social care sector. Health professionals are often advised by managers to take the ‘safe option’ and not share information with carers, even when sharing is appropriate.
This is a massive issue for supporters and members of Rethink Mental Illness. We have more than 100 carers groups in England. Time and time again people tell us that they don’t feel equipped to look after their loved one because they can’t get the information they need from health professionals.
One of our supporters told us: “On my son’s discharge from hospital after an episode of acute psychosis we had no information about his condition, how he would behave, how we should react to him. We had no experience in dealing with him when unwell. We were expected to just cope – a complete nightmare.”
Unfortunately, this situation is all too common for carers. So how can mental health professionals strike the right balance between respecting their patient’s right to confidentiality, while also addressing carers’ urgent need for information?
According to the Caldicott review, the answer could lie in training. The report describes current mandatory training around information sharing as a tick-box exercise, and calls for health professionals to be “educated and not simply trained in effective... sharing of information”. In other words, health professionals need more in-depth training on information sharing that recognises the needs of carers, as well as concerns about data protection and confidentiality.
Today, we’re re-launching Carers and Confidentiality, a website and online training package that aims to help mental health professionals decide how and when to share information with carers in difficult circumstances
It looks at issues like how good information sharing can improve mental health outcomes, examples of best practice, and practical solutions to dilemmas that mental health professionals are likely to face in their day-to-day work.
As Dame Caldicott noted in her report, good sharing of information is just as important as protecting confidentiality. We hope that this new training package can help mental health professionals make the best decision on information sharing for patients and their carers.
Click here for more information about Carers and Confidentiality and to register your interest.