Interpretation of medical information acts by UK occupational physicians

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BackgroundDifficulties arise in applying the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 in occupational health practice. There is no guidance on detailed aspects of applying these Acts in practice and consistent advice has proved difficult to obtain.AimsTo audit the understanding and practice of UK occupational physicians to see if a consensus view existed.MethodsA postal questionnaire sent to all UK-based Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) members between December 2005 and June 2006. Responses were analysed using the SPSS 13.0 software.ResultsResponses were received from 726 SOM members, a response rate of 48%. The study revealed wide variation and a limited consensus in practice. Significant differences existed between doctors with a Diploma in Occupational Medicine and those with higher Faculty qualifications, between part-time and full-time practitioners and between doctors who qualified pre- and post-1974.ConclusionsThe audit revealed wide variation in responding to clinical scenarios in relation to both the Access to Medical Reports and the Data Protection Acts. The findings have implications for clinical practice, policy and research. The majority of respondents reported that national guidance is needed.

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