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Confidentiality and Information-Sharing

Many family members report that they cannot get the information they need to enable them to help their relative, or that they feel excluded from their care. This can be because professionals want to protect the privacy of the person with mental health difficulties, and in fact have a duty to do so.

Conflicts about sharing information can be a source of concern – getting the balance between the service user’s right to privacy and the carer’s need for information. Respecting the confidentiality of the service user is an important part of the trust between the person and their health care professionals. However, there are times when family and friends may wish to know as much as possible to help and support their loved one and to keep them safe.

Everyone has the right to keep certain information private. All too often however, the interpretation of this right in healthcare systems blocks information that is not sensitive being shared with close relatives or friends. For example, a mental health professional can share general information about a particular disorder such as depression, and what helps someone who is depressed to feel better, without breaking confidentiality rules.

This page aims to provide resources that focus on this topic, what information can be shared and what cannot, and where to find out more about this issue.

Rethink Carers and Confidentiality website

This Rethink Mental Illness online learning resource is designed to help health professionals to manage issues of confidentiality and negotiate information-sharing dilemmas with family/friend carers supporting people with mental health problems.

The resource is designed for use by mental health staff; however it provides general information and definitions, together with excellent links to a number of further resources/articles.

Some interesting points of reference are:

Continuity of Care: a briefing paper 

The British Journal of Psychiatry

Royal College of Psychiatrists Confidentiality and Information Sharing

This leaflet is about confidentiality issues which arise between mental health professionals and carers of adults with mental health problems, in particular those who provide ongoing help and support, without payment, to a relative, partner or friend.

The issues of confidentiality and information-sharing between mental health professionals and carers are difficult and complex to resolve. Some of these problems are described, together with examples of good practice which may help address them, and hopefully provide more positive results for all concerned.

Commonsense Confidentiality : A guide for carers, family and friends (132.3 KiB)

This leaflet has been designed by the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and is an easy-to-read guide to best practice in sharing information.

Carers Trust

Carers Trust is a major charity for, with and about carers.

The Triangle of Care is a Carers Trust initiative – developed by carers and staff to improve partnership working between service users and their carers and healthcare providers.

It offers a membership scheme to help mental health trusts to ensure the triangle of care standards are achieved.  One important standard is number 3: ‘Policy and practice protocols re: confidentiality and sharing information’ Confidentiality and Information Sharing and Hot issues for Carers

These are useful documents produced by Alan Worthington, a Carer Advisor with the Carers Trust, with information about confidentiality and other issues which carers may welcome help with.

Sharing Mental Health Information With Carers : pointers to good practice for service providers (407.2 KiB)

 – Research summarised in this briefing paper was carried out by the Health Services Research Department, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London and Rethink


In 2004, the charitable organisation “Rethink Mental Illness” was commissioned by the UK’s Department of Health to undertake research to identify best practice when mental health professionals share information with carers. The research highlighted that many professionals do not feel confident or competent in sharing information and a need for training was identified. The result was Rethinks “Carers and Confidentiality” e-learning package which is now available on-line

The resource is an e-learning package containing both information resources and an interactive 9-lesson course based upon scenarios provided by carers, service users and professionals. The written resources can be accessed and downloaded freely, however the interactive e-learning is accessed by subscription only.

Staff employed by the Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust can contact Paula Conneely at paula.conneely1@nhs.net for advice and guidance on how to register. Services interested in obtaining a site licence can find more information on the sites homepage or can contact Rethink Mental Illness directly at info@carersandconfidentiality.org.uk.

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