Q:How can I obtain the result of a bone scan I had at Guy's in 1989 when I was a volunteer to test a new form of HRT, but had to stop as I was to have a leg operation? I wrote to let them know and asked if they would let me know the result, but they didn't reply. I want to know if I am really at risk of osteoporosis. (I am now back on HRT a patch but not happy and would like to stop if my bones are reasonable. I had steroid treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica for three years and am now 59). G.J., Hastings.
After the death of my mother, how do we get the story (truth!) out of the doctors? Why does the death certificate not have to register all factors contributing to the death? Do the hospital records only record this "official" statement for their internal audits? A.B., West Bromwich.
Is there any way of finding out what medication a deceased relative had been prescribed? Can one check back as far as 14 years? I feel certain that my mother was suffering a nervous illness due to Ativan withdrawal and I would be keen to find out. J. W., Torquay.
A:We telephoned the Campaign for Freedom of Information and spoke with Morris Frankel about how to get hold of records for yourself or your relatives. That organization sponsored the private member's bill which became the Access to Health Records Act of 1990, which went into effect in November 1991.
Gaining access to records comes down to a bit of craftiness, plus judicious use of the Access to Health Records Act and the Data Protection Act. The first gives you access to records written after November 1991. The second gives you access to records kept on computer (or any electronic media) no matter when they were generated.
In the case of the bone scan, you might first try writing to Guy's Hospital saying that you are having your health monitored and would like to know if you can have the results of the bone scan and their possible interpretation.
If that doesn't work, you might be entitled to the information under the Data Protection Act, since the scan itself or data from it is likely to be kept on computer. A similar situation arose recently, when the Data Protection Registrar was asked whether a CAT scan constituted information on computer. Since that material is stored electronically, he felt it probably did fall under the Data Protection Act.
If you still get no joy, your best bet is to go to your GP or a doctor with whom you have a good relationship and ask him to request the information from Guy's. As soon as he does and receives word back, you are entitled to all his correspondence including information about the results of your bone scan under the Access to Health Records Act, since of course the correspondence was written after November 1991.
Whether you are attempting to get information out of Guy's or have your present doctor to do it for you, remember at all times to be rational, reasonable and contained. Asking for records stirs a number of fears in the minds of most medics that you are going to sue them, that you are a paranoid hypochondriac, that you haven't the equipment to cope with the medical gobbledygook they're going to have to throw at you. Once that sort of fear is aroused, they are more likely to conclude that there is a good reason to withhold this information from you. Under the Health Records Act, they do have certain get out clauses, enabling them to keep back anything they think they ought to for your own good.
As for the two readers asking to get hold of a relative's records, your rights of access are more limited. Probably your best chance is to meet with the doctor and ask informally if you can be shown medical records about your parent (in order, say, to put your mind at rest about how she died).
If the death of the parent occurred after November, the Access to Health Records Act gives a relative a right to see records but only if you have a financial claim, which is only possible if you were financially dependent upon him/her.
However, if you suspect negligence caused a relative's death, you have a right to make a claim of "distress". Although the sum you would receive is nominal something in the order of lb3,500 in the UK it's one way to get your hands on the records if the doctors involved are less than forthcoming. You go about it by engaging a solicitor, who can write to the health authority in question, requesting pre trial discovery of medical records in relation to a possible claim. Hiring a solicitor and issuing the writ would cost you about lb60. Contact Action for Victims of Medical Accidents for names of solicitors experienced in this field (081 291 2793).
This may be a dead end in the case of the reader with the mother who died 14 years ago since the statute of limitations has probably run out.