Patients have a right to know GPs' performance

Patients already have a right to obtain information about the length of a doctor's waiting list, his or her medical career, and whether he or she has had any cases brought against him or her via the General Medical Council. But there is a considerable amount of information which is not yet logged on hospital or GP databases, and many health professionals believe that the issue over what should go into the public arena will be decided by the courts.

UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said: 'We expect to see information about the performance of individual physicians coming out in due course.' He added that he knew the move would be controversial but he believed that the patient's right to know was paramount.

Some members of the medical profession are particularly anxious that surgeons who deal with the most severely ill patients are likely to have the highest mortality rates, and also have the highest number of 'adverse events' recorded against them. A senior doctor stated: "There is concern that releasing crude data could lead to misinterpretation. A lot of patients are good at understanding quite complex statistics, but it has to be explained to them. We don't want to generate an atmosphere where surgeons start to avoid the difficult cases." However, the possibility that people will misinterpret the information they request under freedom of information legislation is not an acceptable reason for refusing to disclose that information.

Information tsar defies doctors: Patients and families will gain access to records despite the medical profession's worries (The Observer, 2 January 2005)