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Doctors advised by MDU on duty of confidentiality when dealing with injuries from weapons

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) has today published advice outlining doctors’ duty of confidentiality when encountering patients who have sustained injuries from weapons such as knives, guns or even crossbows.

The advice, published in the latest edition of the MDU journal, enables doctors to have a greater awareness of the issues surrounding weapon injuries, including their duty to inform police about knife and gunshot wounds and how to apply their duty of confidentiality.

In one anonymised case from the MDU files, a doctor was concerned about public safety after a patient attended A&E with a crossbow protruding through his lower leg. The patient had, allegedly, been accidentally shot by a friend while out hunting rabbits. MDU medico-legal adviser Dr Ellie Mein notes:

'The GMC's guidance, Confidentiality: Reporting gunshot and knife wounds (2017), makes it clear that you should usually inform the police if a patient has an injury 'from an attack with a knife, blade or other sharp instrument.' While it might not be necessary to report the incident if the injury caused by a knife or crossbow was accidental, the doctor should also consider whether information should be disclosed to the police, even without the patient's permission to do so, in the public interest. For example, the police may need to be informed if a crossbow was being used in an area where it could pose a risk of serious harm to others.'

If the situation requires disclosing information to the police, the MDU advises only passing on relevant information to allow for investigation of the incident and informing the patient about the disclosure.

However, if doctors are unsure as to whether a police disclosure is warranted, then the MDU recommends contacting the responsible consultant, the trust's Caldicott guardian and/or legal department or your medical defence organisation for guidance.

This MDU journal article also offers doctors the chance to earn an hour of CPD, accredited by the RCP.

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