Friday, 5 October 2018

The ridiculous business of confidentiality

This has been an appalling week, but I’ll spare you the details. The final straw for me was when I phoned the hospital to find out how my suddenly-struck-down husband was, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: I’m phoning to find out how John Stott is.
Very Unfriendly Receptionist (after some scuffling): he’s being transferred to the ward.
Me: but how is he?
VUR: oh, I can’t tell you that.
Me: but I’m his wife!
VUR: I’m afraid I still can’t tell you that; it’s a matter of confidentiality.
Me: well is he okay?
VUR: I can’t tell you that, either.
Me (after more protestations): IS HE ALIVE?
VUR: yes.

Phew! But I’m seething. Confidentiality is all very well, but this is ridiculous. Would it be so unethical just to say someone is okay? Or to use hospital-speak (which I hate) comfortable? Apparently it would. In my day as a nurse, we always informed next of kin how a patient was. Not any more. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but there was no compassion or understanding. People in A&E departments are frightened and anxious, and so are their relatives. They deserve better than this.

(Btw he’s on the mend now, but we’ve had the week from hell. And it was his birthday!)


  1. Glad he's getting better. Pity you don't have BUPA but it's easy to be wise after the event.
    I wish you both a speedy recovery.

  2. Sorry to hear you had such a hellish week, and to top it all off, that VUR put rules before humane-ness. (Is that a word?)
    You know privacy protection etc. is my line of work, and I can tell you that confidentiality regulations apply when a person can not be identified as being entitled to certain information. You as the patient's wife should not have been treated like that!
    By the way, I am enjoying Ruth Robinson greatly. She will accompany me in a bit on my train trip to OK's :-)

  3. Thanks, Meike. The silly thing is all they had to do is ring me back on my home number as next of kin, which they've got!
    I'm so glad you're enjoying RR - it's a bit of a mad romp, and I thought it might not be your cup of tea. By the way, I think the word you mean is humanity, (which as you know, can mean kindness). Enjoy your weekend.

  4. That is awful that they wouldn't tell you about your own husband! When someone goes into a hospital, there should be a list made up of folks who are on the "OK list". There are also many stories of long-time couples not able to find out about their life partner's condition because they are not blood related, and not married. It's horrible.

    In any case, I'm glad your husband is all right!

  5. I'm so sorry to hear your John isn't well. Sending love and healing cyber-thoughts to you both from New Zealand.
    How very disappointing about your experience. Something's wrong with a system (or receptionist) that is so inflexible.

  6. Sending hugs and good wishes to you and John. I hope he will be home soon....Happy Birthday to him too. It was mine on 3rd !! ( Already met one birthday twin this he another? ) X

    1. Thnak you, Frances. His birthday was the 4th. The day was saved by two of my wonderful children coming down and providing food and sympathy!

  7. Having rung up for people and impersonated them in the past (I wouldn't do it now) I can understand why hospital staff (who can be sued or vilified so easily these days) have orders not to divulge anything. Obviously I think that is a ridiculous situation. But it's one I understand. Your point about them ringing you back is the crux and it should be possible to create a system which gives security and humanity.

    I've emailed you separately.

  8. Thank you, Graham. Or a password from the ambulance crew might be helpful? And thanks so much for your email. Reply to follow.

  9. I hope that John is improving. Is he home yet? .....or have you found a way to get information out of the hospital ?

    1. Thank you, Frances. He’s much better now and happily regaling everyone with his adventures 🙂

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