We published an article that contained a detailed account of a woman’s obstetric and psychiatric history. The information had been obtained from a court judgement and is published in Family Law Reports. The article had been written by two people who had never met the patient in question. The patient’s consent was not sought because the information was on the public record.
We subsequently received a letter for publication from the obstetrician and psychiatrist who had treated the patient. For this, we did seek consent from the patient, because the information had emerged from the doctor–patient relationship. Consent was given. On the day the letter was published, we received a letter from the patient’s solicitor saying that she was very upset at the detail given in the original article and could not understand why we had published it.
Are we operating double standards as the patient obviously thought we were, by publishing information on the public record? Should we get consent from patients in these circumstances?
This information is already in the public domain and therefore it is OK not to get patient consent.
We told the solicitors that the material was on the public record and that was why we had published it. They did not pursue the case.