The GP's dilemma
'An estranged father has asked for information about his daughter's recent consultations. He was not married to her mother but is named on the birth certificate. The mother was contacted to see whether she had any objections to the disclosure and pointed out that her daughter was born on 28 November 2003 - before the law changed with respect to parental responsibility.
'I understand that unmarried fathers of children born before 1 December 2003, even if they were named on the birth certificate, do not automatically have parental responsibility. The child lives with the father for part of the week and he is seeking information about the treatment of his daughter's asthma.
'I don't think it is unreasonable for the father to request this information. Can I disclose it to him?'
Mothers and married fathers have parental responsibility unless this has been removed or restricted by the courts, and divorce does not affect a parent's status. Since 1 December 2003 in England and Wales (and since 15 April 2002 in Northern Ireland and 4 May 2006 in Scotland), unmarried fathers who are named on the child's birth certificate also have parental responsibility. Before these dates, unmarried fathers did not have parental responsibility and this would apply to the patient in this case, who is currently 14 years old.
Release of the records of a child usually requires the authority of someone with parental responsibility. As children become more mature, it is expected that their views are also sought when there is a request to share information. In this case, the child is 14 and you should consider her views. At 14 she is likely to be Gillick competent and should be given an opportunity to decide whether or not she is happy for her father to have this information.
It may be in her best interests for her father to know what her current clinical status is and what medication she needs and when. If this is explained to her, she may be happy to consent to this disclosure.
If the father requests any further information from her records, you should seek her consent each time as she will need to know exactly what information would be disclosed.
The father could acquire parental responsibility by applying for a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or by obtaining a parental responsibility order from the courts. However, it would still be important to involve the child in any decisions to disclose her records or provide the father with information about her medical care, and also to consider what would be in her best interests.
The Information Commissioner's Office's Subject access code of practice offers some useful advice on dealing with requests for information about children.
You can also read our quick guide to parental responsibility for more information on the essentials of dealing with similar situations.