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If you are a separated parent you must take an active interest in your children’s health – do not leave it all to the other parent. Are all their inoculations up-to-date? Do they have any recurrent illnesses which may be cause for concern? Are they taking any prescribed drugs, and if so do you know why? Have you met with their GP to discuss their health? You may need to take proof of identity and their birth certificates with you. All of this involvement can later be used in court as evidence that you are a fully committed parent, and not just a bystander.

If your child receives any medical treatment while in your care, you are obliged to consult with the other parent. If the treatment is an emergency, you don’t have to consult, but you must still tell the other parent afterwards.

Although divorce doesn’t affect the status of your PR, you will find that schools and doctors will often act as if divorced, non-resident fathers do not have PR. Even if you have PR the doctor may want proof or may withhold records because he thinks you are trying to discover your ex’s address or whether she has a new partner, etc. The British Medical Association (BMA) gives this advice to its members,

Anyone with Parental Responsibility has a statutory right to apply for access to their child’s health records. If the child is capable of giving consent, access may only be given with his or her consent. It may be necessary to discuss parental access alone with children if there is a suspicion that they are under pressure to agree. (For example, the young person may not wish a parent to know about a request for contraceptive advice.) If a child lacks the competence to understand the nature of an application but access would be in his or her best interests, it should be granted. Parental access must not be given where it conflicts with a child’s best interests and any information that a child revealed in the expectation that it would not be disclosed should not be released unless it is in the child’s best interests to do so. Where parents are separated and one of them applies for access to the medical record, doctors are under no obligation to inform the other parent, although they may consider doing so if they believe it to be in the child’s best interests.

Whether or not a child is capable of giving consent will depend on his competence or ‘Gillick Competence’, named after the case Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority [1986] AC 112 which concerned the prescription of contraceptives to a minor without her parents’ knowledge or consent.

Where there is a dispute the court must decide where the child’s best interests lie and not the health authority or the doctor. Note that the BMA doesn’t give guidance on what surname to use for a child where it is in dispute. The law still applies, however, that the consent of all those with Parental Responsibility is required.

In practice it may be necessary for a solicitor to write to the doctor confirming you have PR, and you may find that any records sent are incomplete, or have sections blanked out. All records belong to the local NHS trust. The NHS have an excellent customer service unit and provide leaflets at all major hospitals on how to complain. You can download the leaflet from the Department of Health website.

You are advised to take the softly, softly approach. You may need the doctor as an ally later and it isn’t a good idea to alienate him unless you are forced to. Save the iron fist approach until there is no alternative. This is the sort of letter you could write initially,

I have some grave concerns regarding the health of my daughter/son (give names).

I do not feel that I can discuss these over the phone or by letter and would therefore wish to talk directly to his/her doctor about them.

I understand the doctor is in an awkward situation and I am aware he may feel that he is being asked to take sides.

This is not the impression I wish to give; I am only enquiring as a concerned parent. I would request that in the first instance I make an appointment with the doctor to discuss my child’s health.

Access to medical records is governed by Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 which you should consult. It may be that a complaint to the Information Commissioner would be effective but ultimately you may have to enforce your rights in the courts.

Another possibility would be to proceed against the other parent on a Specific Issue application under the Children Act 1989, and then subpoena the doctor to produce the medical records.

It is common for a dispute to arise over medical treatment such as vaccination. If one parent objects the treatment will not go ahead until the Court has ruled otherwise. To prevent treatment you need to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order; if you want treatment the other parent opposes apply for a Specific Issues Order. The Court will rule according to the child’s welfare, so you would need to provide an expert witness to put your case.