Information Disclosure in Clinical Practice: A legal, ethical and professional analysis

  • Kate Hodkinson

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis analyses information disclosure in clinical practice from a legal, ethical and professional perspective. It examines therapeutic privilege, the duty of candour and the application of virtue ethics to truth-telling in nursing practice. I argue that each of these areas requires further clarity, articulation and application in order to assist the decision-making process of health care professionals and improve disclosure practices. In analysing these areas this thesis recognises the context of disclosure practices in relation to respect for patient autonomy and trust in the patient-health care professional relationship. The first published paper at the core of this thesis considers the status of therapeutic privilege in English law and concludes that further clarification is needed to establish its legitimacy. I argue that the shift in English law towards a disclosure standard judged by reference to the reasonable patient requires a doctrine of therapeutic privilege. There are strong ethical arguments in favour of information disclosure, particularly founded on respect for patient autonomy. As such, further clarification is needed to identify and define the grounds on which this exception exists, when the information can lawfully be withheld and how this exception extends to the rest of the health care team, particularly nurses. The second paper examines the ethical and practical considerations that underpin the disclosure of medical errors to patients. This provides a foundation for a discussion of how the law can best support a duty of candour. I argue for the introduction of a statutory duty of candour and analyse the current legal mechanisms and proposals for addressing this issue. The final paper argues that virtue ethics is a useful approach from which to explore decisions relating to information disclosure. Its explicit focus upon moral character, the role of emotion, intention and the importance of practical judgement are considered from the nurse's perspective. This thesis contributes to the dialogue on information disclosure on a number of levels. In terms of methodological approach, it recognises the importance of the synthesis of law and ethics in addressing issues in clinical practice. It uses an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating both legal and ethical perspectives, to examine the substantive questions as well as incorporating reference to empirical research to further underpin its normative claims. Moreover, this thesis considers the nursing perspective in relation to issues of information disclosure to explore the role of the nurse in decision-making regarding disclosure practices.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRebecca Bennett (Supervisor) & Kirsty Keywood (Supervisor)


  • Information Disclosure
  • Truth-telling
  • Therapeutic Privilege
  • Duty of Candour
  • Virtue Ethics
  • Nursing

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