For the past 14 years it has been a criminal offence, under section 38B of the Terrorism Act 2000, for a person to fail to disclose information to the police that they know or believe might be of material assistance in preventing an act of terrorism, or in securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of another person for an offence involving the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism. The obligation applies to all individuals, including doctors, who may justify such a disclosure as it is required by law.
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 Act introduced a new 'Prevent' duty which will affect many doctors. Section 26 of the Act places a duty on a specified authority that it 'must in the exercise of its functions have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism'.
How the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 Act applies differs in the different UK jurisdictions.
England and Wales
In the health sector, the specified authorities are:
- in England, NHS Trusts or Foundation Trusts
- in Wales, NHS Trusts, Local Health Boards, Community Health Council or the Board of Community Health Councils.
NHS primary care organisations in England and Wales are not included yet, but there are powers to add new organisations to the list.
Public Health England falls within a specified authority in the local government sector.
An amendment of the law in 2015 brought Scottish NHS Health Boards, Special Health Boards and Health Improvement Scotland into the list of specified authorities. As Scottish NHS Health Boards encompass primary care, general practice in Scotland could be subject to the Prevent duty, depending on how services are contracted.
Part 5 of the Act, which includes section 26 and the Prevent duty, does not apply in Northern Ireland. However, this jurisdiction has legislation that makes it an offence to fail to provide information to the police in certain circumstances when a serious offence has occurred (regardless of whether it is terrorist related).
Comparable to safeguarding
The UK government has indicated that it considers preventing someone being drawn into terrorism as 'substantially comparable to safeguarding in other areas'. NHS bodies in England and Wales will incorporate Prevent awareness into policies and training for all staff who provide services to NHS patients. A government fact sheet provides advice to specified authorities including in the health sector in England and Wales.
There is separate guidance for Scotland that states, 'a range of private and voluntary agencies and organisations are involved in the delivery of NHS services. Health Boards should ensure that the Prevent duty is covered in contracts and grants they make with and to any organisation performing a relevant function on their behalf.'
This means that locums, for example, who work through agencies or GP practices that are contracted by a Health Board, should have the Prevent duty imposed on them through their contract. More generally, it is evident from this guidance that the Government's intention is for most (if not all) doctors in Scotland to be subject to the Prevent duty.