Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v Thomas and others  EWHC 127 (Fam) – read judgment
Updated: The Court of Appeal has now ruled that doctors at King’s College hospital, London, could remove Isaiah from the ventilator that has kept him alive since he was deprived of oxygen at birth and sustained catastrophic brain injury. The judges also refused the parents permission to appeal against this ruling. McFarlane LJ said
This case is not about the parents or their hopes. It is and must firmly be about Isaiah and his best interests.
Parental love is to be cherished by society, particularly when a child is sick. But the “flattering voice of hope” is not always in best interests of the object of that love. So concluded MacDonald J in a recent ruling which has attracted considerable media attention. The judge concluded that it was not in the 11- month old boy’s best interests for life-sustaining treatment to be continued. He was satisfied on the evidence of the court, he said, that the boy, Isaiah, had
no prospect of recovery or improvement given the severe nature of the cerebral atrophy in his brain
and that he would remain “ventilator dependent and without meaningful awareness of his surroundings”
Perhaps with the Charlie Gard publicity in mind, MacDonald J was careful to emphasise the weight of the medical evidence as against the parents’ assessment of the boy’s condition. The publicity sparked by this case has led to visits to the child by other medical professionals. There are some forceful concluding remarks in this judgement about the inappropriate nature of these possible “clandestine examinations”. These are now a matter for the police.
The judge also rejected the argument that the court should hear evidence from “foreign” experts on the approach from which other cultures might approach this question in terms of its ethics and outcome. There was a “world of difference” between medical expertise from abroad and a foreign “expert” who simply takes the view that the medical or ethical approach to these issues in this jurisdiction differs from that in their own practice.
It would be extremely unfortunate if the standard response to applications of this nature was to become one of scouring the world for medical experts who simply take the view that the medical, moral or ethical approach to these issues in their jurisdiction, or in their own practice is preferable to the medical, moral or ethical approach in this jurisdiction.
Matthew Fisher is a doctor and aspiring barrister with an interest and experience in MedTech.
Regardless of whether one attributes this famous quote to Voltaire or Spider-Man, the sentiment is the same. Power and responsibility should be in equilibrium. More power than responsibility leads to decision-making with little concern for the consequences and more responsibility than power leads to excessive caution. This article argues that there is now a disequilibrium in the NHS, which is the root cause for defensive medical practice and the growing NHS litigation bill.
Montgomery v Lanarkshire affirmed a transition from patients as passive receivers of care to active consumers by making the collaborative patient-doctor relationship a legally enforceable right. However, as yet patients are not expected to share responsibility for a negative outcome. Medical paternalism may now be dead but judicial paternalism appears to be alive and well. However, contributory negligence is a necessary counter-weight in this balance and it must urgently be applied to restore equilibrium.
The release of confidential patient details to a state medical institution in the course of her negotiations with a hospital over a lawsuit was an unjustified interference with her right to respect for private life under Article 8.
In 1997 the applicant gave birth at a state hospital in Cēsis. Caesarean section was used, with the applicant’s consent, because uterine rupture had occurred during labour. In the course of that surgery the surgeon performed tubal ligation (surgical contraception) without the applicant’s consent.
In 2005, after her attempt to achieve an out-of-court settlement with the hospital had failed, the applicant initiated civil proceedings against the hospital, seeking to recover damages for the unauthorised tubal ligation. In December of 2006 her claim was upheld and she was awarded compensation in the amount of 10,000 Latvian lati for the unlawful sterilisation. Continue reading →
The Outer House of the Court of Session has ruled that the right to privacy and medical confidentiality under Article 8 of the Convention entitles complainers to be heard and have legal representation before any orders are made for recovery of their medical records.
Factual circumstances and legal background
The petitioner, (‘WF’) was a complainer in domestic abuse proceedings against the accused. The accused sought to recover all medical, psychiatric and psychological records relating to WF from 2007 to 2014. WF sought legal aid to allow her to be represented at the hearing concerning the recovery of these documents, arguing that her rights under Article 8 of the Convention entitled her to participate. The application to the Scottish Legal Aid Board was refused as there was no provision in the relevant legislation or regulations for legal aid to be granted for such proceedings. A further application was then made to the Scottish Ministers, under s.4(2)(c) of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986, which allows legal aid to be granted in circumstances not covered by the rules. This application was also refused on the grounds that WF did not have the right to appear or be represented at the relevant hearing. The key issue which came before the Sheriff was therefore whether Article 8 gave the complainer the right to appear and be represented at the hearing concerning disclosure of her medical records. Continue reading →
Montgomery v. Lanarkshire Health Board  UKSC 11, 11 March 2015 – read judgments here
James Badenoch QC of 1COR was for the mother in this case. He played no part in the writing of this post.
An important new decision from a 7-Justice Supreme Court on informed consent in medical cases.
In the mid-1980s a majority of the House of Lords in Sidawaydecided that it was on the whole a matter for doctors to decide how much to tell patients about the risks of treatment, and that therefore you could not sue your doctor in negligence for failing to inform you of a risk if other reasonable doctors would not have informed you of the risk. Thus the principle that the standard of medical care is to be determined by medical evidence (which all lawyers will know as the Bolam principle) was extended to the quality of information to be provided to a patient about a given treatment.
The Supreme Court, reversing the judgments at first instance and on appeal, has now unequivocally said that Sidaway should not be followed.
General Dental Council v Rimmer  EWHC 1049 (Admin) (15 April 2010) – Read judgment
A dentist has been ordered to hand over his patients’ medical records to a court in order to help his regulator prosecute him for misconduct. The case raises interesting questions of when the courts can override patient confidentiality which would otherwise be protected by the Human Rights Act.
When health professionals are being prosecuted for misconduct,their patients’ confidential records will almost invariably be disclosed to the court if requested, even without the patients’ consent. Some may find this surprising, given the fact that medical records almost invariably contain highly private and potentially embarrassing information which a person would justifiably not want disclosed in a public court. However, the situation is not as simple as it first appears, as demonstrated by the recent case of an allegedly dodgy dentist.
ABC v St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust and Others  EWCA Civ 336 – read judgment
All the advocates in this case are from 1 Crown Office Row. Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC, Henry Witcomb QC and Jim Duffy for the Appellant, and Philip Havers QC and Hannah Noyce for the Respondents. None of them were involved in the writing of this post.
In a fascinating twist to the drama of futuristic diagnosis, the Court of Appeal has allowed an argument that doctors treating a Huntington’s patient should have imparted information about his diagnosis to his pregnant daughter to go to trial.
The background to this case is outlined in my earlier post on Nicol J’s ruling in the court below. A patient with an inherited fatal disease asked his doctors not to disclose information to his daughter. The daughter came upon this information accidentally, shortly after the birth of her child, and found, after a genetic test, that she suffered from this condition as well, which has a 50% chance of appearing in the next generation. Had she known this, she would have sought a termination of the pregnancy. She claimed that the doctors were liable to her in damages for the direct effect on her health and welfare.
A claim for “wrongful birth” is well established in law; no claim was made on behalf of the child, who was too young to be tested for the condition. The twist is the duty of secrecy between doctor and patient, which has held very well for the past two centuries. Short of confessions pertaining to homicide or information regarding contagious diseases, the dialogue behind the consulting door should end there.
The problem is that the typical medical relationship only pertains to the pathology of the individual patient. Now that tests are available that make every single one of us a walking diagnosis not only for our own offspring but those of our siblings and their offspring, the one-to-one scenario collapses, along with the limited class of people to whom a doctor owes a duty of care. The pregnant daughter who came across the information about her father’s condition was not the defendant doctor’s patient. In pre-genetic days, that meant there was no duty of care relationship between her father’s doctors and her. But the certainty of hereditability brings her into that circle. Continue reading →
In the current circumstances, this case has important resonances and maybe even implications for future vaccinations. It was an appeal by the parents of a ten year old child against a decision that the local authority, had lawful authority to have the child vaccinated (pursuant to Section 33(3) of the Children Act 1989.
The local authority had made care and placement orders in respect of the child, who was at the time in foster care. The LA argued that it had lawful authority, pursuant to the Children Act 1989 s.33(3), to arrange the vaccination of a child in care notwithstanding the objection of the parents, and that therefore it was unnecessary and inappropriate to refer the decision to the High Court under its inherent jurisdiction. Parental views regarding immunisation had always to be considered but the decision depended solely on the child’s welfare.
Depending on the content of the warnings about medicines, Ms Thornberry may be right. An argument that a deceased’s death has been caused or contributed to by neglect is usually levelled against a local police force that fails to provide basic medical attention to a detainee in need, or a hospital that does not act to counter a life-threatening illness in a patient. It is not commonly deployed against central government on the basis of a decision said to have denied basic medical attention to whole sections of the population.
TTM (By his Litigation Friend TM) v London Borough of Hackney, East London NHS Foundation Trust; Secretary of State for Health – Read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that the local authority, but not the detaining hospital, was liable to pay compensation to a person who had been unlawfully detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983. The case provides important guidance on the liability of mental health and medical professionals in the difficult area of detaining patients, as well as the ability to recover damages where a claimant is unlawfully detained.
The Court held that the patient’s detention had been unlawful from the start when the approved mental health professional [‘AMHP’] erred in whether the patient’s relative objected to admission. The local authority responsible for the AMHP could not rely on the Section 139(1)of the Mental Health Act 1983 [‘the Act’] statutory protection from civil liability, which had to be read down by virtue of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to give effect to the patient’s right to liberty under Article 5 of the ECHR.
British Pregnancy Advisory Service v Secretary of State for Health  EWHC 235 (Admin) – read judgment
The High Court has ruled that the law requiring that administration of the early medical abortion drugs take place at hospital cannot be read down to allow self-administration at home. The approval of the appropriate place for treatment must be made by the Secretary of State.
The current accepted treatment for a medical abortion up to 9 weeks’ gestation involves the prescription and two-phase administration of drugs at intervals of 24-48 hours. The claimant organisation argued that the requirement for women to return to the hospital or clinic for a second visit created unnecessary stress and hardship and therefore that the term “treatment” in the relevant legislation should be interpreted to mean that only the prescription and issuing of the drugs should take place in a hospital, allowing women to stay at home after the first visit.
A Local Authority v Mrs A, by her Litigation Friend, the Official Solicitor, and Mr A  EWHC 1549 (Fam) – Read judgment
In the first case of its kind, the court was asked to consider whether a young married woman lacks capacity to decide whether to use contraception, and whether it would be in her interests to be required to receive it.
Mrs A was a 29-year-old woman who suffered from serious learning difficulties, which put her intellectual functioning at approximately 0.1% of adults her age. In 2004 she gave birth to a daughter, and in 2005 she had a son. Both children were removed from her at birth because she did not have the capacity to take care of them.
R (on the application of HA (Nigeria)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 979 (Admin) – Read judgment
The detention of a mentally ill person in an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment and false imprisonment, and was irrational, the High Court has ruled.
Mr Justice Singh heard a judicial review application by a Nigerian National against decisions to continue to detain him under the UK Borders Act 2007 and the conditions of that detention. From August 2009, HA, an overstaying visitor and asylum seeker, was detained at various IRCs following his release from prison for a drug-related offence which triggered the automatic deportation provisions of the 2007 Act. His behaviour during detention became increasingly disturbed and strange. In January 2010, he was seen by a psychiatrist who recommended HA’s transfer to a mental hospital for assessment and treatment.
R (o.t.a A and B) v. Department of Health  UKSC 41, 14 June 2017 – judgment here; previous post here.
Update: the government has announced its intention to make funding available for women travelling from Northern Ireland to have free termination services on the NHS in England (29 June 2017).
Was it unlawful for the Secretary of State for Health, who had power to make provisions for the functioning of the National Health Service in England, to have failed to make a provision which would have enabled women who were citizens of the UK, but who were usually resident in Northern Ireland, to undergo a termination of pregnancy under the NHS in England free of charge?
No, said the Supreme Court (Lord Wilson, who gave the lead judgment, and Lords Reed and Hughes, but with Lord Kerr and Lady Hale dissenting).
Background law and facts
The law on abortion in Northern Ireland is governed by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Abortion is only lawful there if there is a threat of long term psychiatric or physical injury to the mother. As this is difficult to prove, a steady stream of women come from Northern Ireland to secure abortions, mostly from private clinics that charge a fee for the service as they are unable to obtain a termination free of charge under the English NHS. Continue reading →
KV (Sri Lanka) v Secretary of State for the Home Department UKSC 10
How likely is it that an asylum seeker, in order to support a false asylum claim, invited another person to inflict him with serious burn wounds under anaesthetic?
This startling possibility – wounding “self-inflicted by proxy” (SIBP) in the jargon – was the subject of this extraordinary appeal. The Supreme Court concluded that injury SIBP was “likely to be extremely rare.” In the process, it gave important guidance on the treatment of expert medical evidence in asylum cases.
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