A DDU member was unsure about the divide between their duty of care and their duty of confidentiality.

A dentist called the DDU advice line after becoming increasingly concerned about a patient at her practice. The patient was known to have post-traumatic stress disorder with an associated alcohol dependency, and was frequently inebriated. His behaviour had meant he had been a difficult patient to treat in the past, and he also had an ongoing complaint against another dentist at the practice.

The patient was on an extreme low on the day in question, and after speaking with him on the phone the DDU member felt that the patient might be at risk and was concerned for his safety. The member thought she should contact the patient's general medical practitioner, but wasn't sure if this would be a breach of patient confidentiality.

The DDU adviser said that the dentist should take action if she was genuinely concerned about the patient's safety, and that as long as she was acting in the patient's best interests there shouldn't be a justifiable reason to criticise her decision to speak to a third party. However, if she did nothing and the patient later came to harm, she could well be open to valid reproach.

It would still be important to involve the patient in the process, and the adviser told the dentist that she should contact the patient and ask his consent for her to speak to his GMP. The dentist was worried that that given the patient's history there was a possibility that this consent wouldn't be forthcoming. If that was the case and the dentist felt she needed to go ahead regardless, the adviser recommended she tell the patient of her intentions in the interests of transparency and in line with GDC standards.

This page was correct at publication on 09/02/2017. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.