Duty of care to third parties not extended

On 19 May, Mr Justice Nicol gave judgment in the case of ABC v St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust & Ors. The claimant, ABC had issued a claim for damages that was at a very early stage when the defendants applied to strike it out on the basis that there was no duty of care owed to ABC by them.

ABC was the daughter of a mental health patient, F. He had been made the subject of a hospital order following a manslaughter conviction. During the period of the hospital order he was diagnosed as suffering from Huntington’s Disease, a serious genetic condition. ABC had a 50 per cent chance of also having it. She was pregnant at the time of the diagnosis and argued that, if she had known about her father’s condition, she would have been tested and, if positive, would have had a termination. At the time of F’s diagnosis, the treating team asked for his consent to notify ABC and F refused.

While it might have been expected that the judgment would deal with issues of confidentiality and the
circumstances in which that duty could be overridden, the judgment instead deals with whether there is a duty on health professionals to notify a third party of confidential medical information that may be relevant to their own medical treatment, and concludes there is not.

The claim was therefore struck out as it had no basis in law.

It is useful to be reminded that the duty of care that health professionals owe is a duty to their patient, not to the family of their patient or to anyone in general who could be affected by their decisions, particularly when the new Code of Practice places such emphasis on the involvement of family in care planning and management decisions.

For further information or advice please contact Jill Weston on 0121 456 8450 or Stuart Knowles on 0121 456 8461.

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