Article Text

Ethics and the law: family disputes and confidentiality
  1. Bridgit Dimond, Emeritus Professor and
  2. Rob George
  1. Legal aspects: Bridgit Dimond, Emeritus Professor, University of Glamorgan. Ethical aspects: Rob George, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London


Unless there is a legal exception, patients’ rights to confidentiality must be respected at all times. Consequently, relatives/friends must not be given confidential information about a patient without the patient’s consent. However, this can cause problems when relatives/friends want to be informed about their loved one’s situation but the patient has informed healthcare staff that no information must be disclosed. Such situations can become particularly difficult in end-of-life care when emotions are heightened. However, it is a healthcare professional’s duty to protect patients’ right to confidentiality and they must be open about that right when relatives/friends pressurise them to disclose specific information. The case scenario discussed in this article (see box) relates to issues of confidentiality, the rights of families to confidential information and the role of the nurse in navigating through challenging family dynamics. It highlights how much of nurses’ professional practice can be affected by personalities and family disputes. Conflicts of interest: none

  • Confidentiality
  • Duty of care
  • Palliative and end-of-life care
  • Professionalism

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