Providing patient information to the police – is this OK?

Kate Gillman, BA LLB, Head of Medico-legal Advisory Service, Avant

Thursday, 13 June 2024

Top of police car, sirens off.

Originally published December 2021, updated June 2024

You’re a trainee who has just started a night shift in a busy inner-city hospital, when the police come in asking for information about a patient. According to the police there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the patient’s injuries. 

Our Medico-legal Advisory Service receives many calls from doctors seeking advice about how to respond to requests for information to the police.

So what should you do?

First and foremost, it’s important to remain helpful to the police, but not to breach the patient’s privacy, or hospital policies. Disclosing patient information without the patient’s consent can have serious consequences for doctors. For example, in one case, the Commonwealth Privacy Commissioner ordered a doctor to apologise and pay $6,500 in compensation for breaching a patient’s privacy by providing information to the police. Or it may lead to action by the regulator.

You do not have to provide patient information to the police unless you have the patient’s consent, or the police have a warrant, subpoena or other legal order requiring disclosure of the information. If this is not the case, it’s okay for you to ask the police to obtain the patient’s consent for the release of information, and ask to see confirmation of the patient’s consent if they say they already have it.

Public hospitals have to comply with any relevant state or territory privacy legislation. Under this legislation, situations that may justify providing information to police without the patient's consent include:

  • Where there is a serious threat to the life, health or safety of an individual or to public health or safety.
  • Where you have good reason to suspect unlawful activity or misconduct of a serious nature.

You will need to ask questions of the police to understand the nature and reasons for the request.  Always refer to any hospital policy and consult your supervisor before releasing confidential patient information to anyone, including the police.

When it is appropriate to provide information, this can often be done verbally. To ensure any information provided is accurate, you may need to access the patient’s medical records. As medical records are owned by the hospital and should not be accessed unless for clinical treatment, you will need to speak to the relevant department in your hospital before you do this.

Any request by police for copies of the medical records should be directed to that department. 

If you’re asked to give a formal statement, you should be aware this could be relied upon as evidence in court, so seek specific advice from your hospital before providing or signing a statement.

Any details of communication with police should be documented in the patient’s medical records.

More information

For medico-legal advice, contact us at or on 1800 128 268, 24/7 in emergencies.

Video: Preparing a statement for the police

Factsheet: Privacy: the essentials

Factsheet: Early career doctor essentials: Privacy and confidentiality

Find out more about how Avant can support you as an intern, RMO and doctor in training, both through your medical career and your life outside medicine. 


IMPORTANT: This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practise proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published.

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