There has been a sharp increase in the number of GPs reporting disputes between parents over a child's medical records, according to the Medical Protection Society, a leading healthcare indemnity provider.
The MPS says it has received 800 calls from GPs seeking advice on this area in the last five years and on average now receives one phone call every other day.
The most common request for advice relates to an estranged father seeking access to medical information about their child, following an acrimonious split with the child's mother.
Richard Stacey, a legal advisor at the MPS, said: "Calls from GP's concerned about separated parents having access to children's records are now among our most common.
"Access to a child's records can be a contentious point for separated parents and it has the potential to raise all kinds of issues relating to parental rights and the GP's obligations. We received a record number of calls last year and expect that this will continue to rise.
"The interests of the child are paramount at all times. In most cases the request for access is well-intentioned and reasonable, but it is important that all requests for access to a child's records are dealt with fairly and in line with the relevant professional guidance and legislation.
"When disclosing information, GPs must make sure that the person making the request has parental responsibility. They must be careful to withhold any information in the records relating to identifiable third parties, or that could be harmful to any parties. Consideration should also be given to whether or not it is appropriate to obtain the child's consent before disclosing information.
"As children get older, their own understanding matures. The right to make a decision shifts from parent to the child when the child has sufficient maturity to be capable of making up his or her own mind and their consent should usually be sought prior to disclosing their records."