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As a midwife ‘you must respect a woman's right to confidentiality’: A Northern Ireland perspective

02 January 2017
Volume 25 · Issue 1


Within the role of a registered midwife, the issue of maintaining confidentiality is complex. A midwife's responsibility is outlined and governed by laws such as the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Data Protection Act 1998. The ideology of confidentiality is further reinforced by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and should not cause the midwife undue pressure or stress; however, it often becomes a cause for concern. Midwives in Northern Ireland may carry out their role in environments that are not well suited for preserving confidentiality or sharing sensitive information. Conflict may arise for midwives in maintaining women's confidentiality while also having a duty of care to protect the public. In today's climate, many midwives experience a fear of litigation, so the importance and complexity of confidentiality must not be underestimated.

There are pro fes sional standards of practice and behav iour to which a registered midwife must adhere, which are set out by the Nursing and Midwifery Coun cil (NMC). One such obligation is confiden tiality, which extends to women and their families throughout their care (NMC, 2015). A woman's right to confidentiality is identified in the NHS Constitution and is part of creating and maintaining therapeutic relations (NHS, 2015). This is arguably one of the most sensitive and challenging aspects for a midwife to manage. The Human Rights Act 1998, Data Protection Act 1998 and common law principles result in the midwife being legally bound to confidentiality until it becomes clear that information needs to be disclosed (Peate and Hamilton, 2008). This article explores the role of the midwife relating to confidentiality, its significance within midwifery in Northern Ireland, and the difficulties and challenges it brings. It will identify when and why trusted information is shared, why the right to confidentiality is not absolute, and the consequences when a breach of confidentiality arises. Examining the systems in place in midwifery, the article evaluates their success in protecting sensitive information and providing a platform for woman-centred care. Ultimately, the aim of this article is to highlight the importance of trust between a woman and midwife, the determining factor being confidentiality.

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