The Records of Hill End and Cell Barnes Hospitals
Access to the Records
By Gary Moyle, Archivist at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Working out whether you can have access to medical records can be frustrating and confusing. Unfortunately the law is complex, open to interpretation, and implemented differently by different authorities. I will try to set out, simply, the procedures we have in place at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS), Hertford, where the records of Hill End and Cell Barnes are held. These basics apply to many other records we hold, which may also contain personal or sensitive information. It is worth saying though, that the records you seek may not even survive. If they do, and we have indicated that it may be possible to find information for you, that does not necessarily mean that you will be able to see the original items yourself.
Access to your own information
- If you want your own medical information, you can apply to us with what we call an Access to Personal Health Records request. You have a right to this information, as long as it does not refer to other people, and is not harmful to yourself or others.
- If you want your own information which is non-medical (for example, a hospital admission date), you can apply to us with what we call a ‘subject access request’. You have a right to this information under the Data Protection Act 1998. There is no charge.
Access to information about other people
- If you have a legal reason to apply for medical information about a deceased person, you can apply to us. If the records are still with a Health Trust, they will deal with it under the Access to Health Records Act 1990.
- If you want medical information concerning a deceased person, you may contact us for advice. Although non-medical information becomes available upon the person’s death, medical information continues to be protected. It only becomes fully accessible when it is 100 years old. You do have the right to ask for this restricted information under the Freedom of Information Act, but such requests routinely fall into one of the exemptions to the Act. These exemptions protect sensitive information, and it is highly unlikely that the information would be released. Please contact HALS for further advice.
- If you want non-medical information concerning a deceased person, such as admission and discharge dates, you can apply to us specifying that it is only non-medical information you require. Evidence of their death will allow us to carry out the paid research for you.
Access to records for research
- If you want access to medical records for serious research, it is likely that you are already a registered medical researcher, and that a Research and Ethics Committee would need to consider your request.
Charges and evidence of identity
You may need to supply us with evidence of your identity or evidence of the death of a deceased person, or perhaps evidence of your legal appointment or relationship to the deceased. Your own information is free of charge to you. There is likely to be a charge for other research that you ask to be done on your behalf.
Medical items wholly over 100 years old are freely available to consult in the Archive Reading Room at Hertfordshire Archives. What was the ‘100 year rule’ is now simply a 100 year rule of thumb, so that medical information has some ongoing protection even after the death of the patient, and their health professional. Occasionally information will be freely available, but if contained in an otherwise restricted item, paid research will be required to extract that information.
The new archive catalogues relating to Hill End (HM1) and Cell Barnes (HM2) will indicate, item by item, what records can and cannot be consulted by visitors to the archive reading room.