Capsticks have successfully represented St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in a sensitive claim involving patient confidentiality concerning genetic information. Judgment was handed down on Friday (28 February 2020) by Mrs Justice Yip and the Claimant’s claim has been dismissed.

The Judge has ruled that the staff involved at the 3 Trusts acted reasonably and responsibly in carrying out a balancing exercise to recognise the competing interests in genetic information of both ABC and her father, XX. The clinicians exercised their clinical judgment in difficult and challenging circumstances, weighing up ABC’s interests in being informed of her genetic risk of inheriting Huntington’s disease against her father’s interests in preserving confidentiality in relation to his diagnosis and the public interest in maintaining confidentiality generally. On the evidence, the Judge found no breach of duty on the part of the Trusts and further that ABC had not established that she would have been tested and undergone a termination had the risk of Huntington’s Disease been disclosed to her during her pregnancy.

The Judge found that a duty of care was owed to ABC given there was a close proximal relationship between her and one Trust but the duty only arose given the unique factual matrix of this case and attempts to define any wider duty on medical professionals would be inappropriate. The duty found was to balance risks and interests properly and would simply recognise and enforce the need for the balancing exercise already identified in the professional guidance.

Mrs Justice Yip found further that there was no need for a distinction between genetics and other areas of medicine and that genetic information should not be treated differently from other information which reveals a serious risk to another person.

This decision endorses the clinicians’ actions in this extremely challenging claim and highlights the difficult decisions they often face between the competing interests of confidentiality and the duty of care.