The Access to Health Records Act 1990 (AHRA) governs access to the health records of deceased patients by a relevant authorised representative. Please note that it does not permit access to other information such as employee records, incidents, emails held outside the health record, etc.

This access is restricted to only two small categories of people namely:

  • The deceased patient's personal representative (ie the executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate). This is the only person who has an unqualified right of access to the full records and need give no reason for applying for access to the records.
  • Any person who can establish they have a claim arising from the patient's death. These persons must provide evidence to support their claim and can apply for access to records only relevant to their claim.

Please note that 'next of kin' do not have an automatic right of access to a deceased patient’s records. Despite the widespread use of the phrase ‘next of kin’, it is not defined, nor does it hold any formal legal status. ‘Next of kin’ have no rights of access to a patient’s record (unless the patient has given prior consent to this).

People have a right to have their records kept confidential, even after death, and the Trust as record holders are obliged to be satisfied that an applicant is legitimate and entitled to access a specific person’s records.

The first thing to establish is if the deceased had a will or not (died intestate). If they had a will, then an applicant should provide a copy of this and/or the Grant of Probate to confirm that they are the deceased's personal representative.

If the patient died intestate then the rules of intestacy need to considered and followed (please refer here to the Government's website). The applicant may be able to provide a Letter of Administration or a Statutory Declaration (from a solicitor) to support such an application.

If the applicant has a claim arising out of the patient’s death and wishes to access information relevant to that claim, then they will need to provide details of the nature of the claim and a copy of one of the following forms of evidence:

  • Solicitor’s letter
  • Insurance claim / letter, or;
  • Evidence of a genetic condition (doctor or solicitor’s letter to support).

Please note that in cases where an applicant needs to prove parental rights, the Trust can only accept Full/Long birth certificates that show and include the parent(s) details.

There may be situations where access to information may be limited or denied:

  • If the deceased patient informed the Trust prior to their death that they did not want certain people to have access to their information, the Trust must uphold that request even after their death,
  • Access must not be given to a person with a claim arising from the patient’s death to any part of the record which is not relevant to their claim.
  • Information released may cause serious harm to the physical or mental health or condition of any other living person, or;
  • Access would disclose information relating to, or provided by, other living third parties who can be identified and have not consented to the release of that information.

Under the Act, we must respond within 21 calendar days (if the records have not been added to within the last 40 calendar days) or within 40 calendar days (if the records have been added to within the last 40 calendar days).

Latest News Update

Please note that from 9 September 2024, changes to the Access to Health Records Act 1990 will give medical examiners a statutory right of access to records of deceased patients as per National Information Governance Bulletin advice (Issue 11, April 2024) as follows:

Medical examiners provide independent scrutiny of deaths not taken for coroner investigation, currently relying on 251 support as the legal basis for sharing records. The Department of Health and Social Care’s death certification reforms stipulate that from 9 September 2024 every death not investigated by a coroner must be reviewed by a medical examiner. Changes to the Access to Health Records Act 1990 will give medical examiners a statutory right of access to records of deceased patients. We will be updating our guidance on access to the health and care records of deceased people to reflect this change.