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The journal of developments in social services, policy and legislation in Ireland

July 2008 Volume 35: Issue 10


Patients’ rights - Medical records and access to health services.

Accessing your medical records - Rights under data protection and Freedom of Information legislation.

Health Information Bill A proposed Health Information Bill will deal with collection, use, sharing, storage, disclosure and transfer of personal health information.

General eligibility for health services - Sets out range of entitlements for those with “full” and “limited” eligibility for health services.

Hospitals - Entitlement to care in public and private hospitals.

Patients’ rights

This issue deals with two separate aspects of patients’ rights – their rights in relation to their medical records and their rights to access free or subsidised health services, in particular hospital services. Your rights in each of these areas are not always clear-cut or easily enforced. If your medical records exist, you do have reasonably clear rights of access to them. However, there is virtually no legislation on the maintenance and retention of medical records so you may not have any accessible records.

Your entitlements to free or subsidised health services are also not always clear. You may be eligible for free or subsidised care but the care you need may not be available or may be available only in private hospitals. It may not be available in this country at all, or only after a long delay, and you may be able to get free or subsidised care abroad. In some cases, you do not have clear enforceable rights. There are plans

to clarify entitlement to health services and to legislate in relation to health records. Proposals for a Health Information Bill and an associated consultation process are described below.

Medical records

Apart from the data protection legislation which sets out general rules about the creation and retention of records, there is no specific legislation on the maintenance, control and retention of medical records. There are EU rules in relation to records of clinical trials (the records must be retained for 20 years). Access to medical records in Ireland is covered by the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 and the Freedom of Information (FOI) Acts 1997 and 2003.


The Medical Council, which is the regulatory body for doctors, sets out some guidelines in its Guide to Ethical Conduct and Behaviour. These state that keeping accurate records is in the interest of both doctors and patients. Records “should be retained for an adequate period (this may be for periods in excess of 21 years)”. The guidelines also stress the importance of storing records in a manner that ensures

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