Client anonymity in clinical negligence claims – the dilemma of litigating

3 October 2012

Given the challenging and changing climate both within the legal sector and the NHS,  I have been forced to reflect upon the dilemma presented by my long-held belief that, generally, clients must be shielded from the press.

Early on in my career, the press doorstepping of the mother of a child with cerebral palsy shocked me. I could, of course, understand the local interest in an already-notorious hospital plus, with a damaged child, the human interest was high. 

At that point, we decided to introduce the presumption that all clients should be anonymised in their litigation and that case-specific publicity was, almost always, not in the client’s interests.

I now find that dual pressures of the private/NHS interface becoming blurred and the prospect of difficulties securing justice posed by the Legal Aid Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Act (LASPO) may require individual clients to pay for accountability with their privacy.

The seep of private organisations into the NHS is not always visible.  When things go wrong with private providers of NHS services, we have experience of the National Health Service Litigation Authority denying their liability and passing patients on to faceless insurers of private companies (see Deborah Nadel’s blog, Who’s driving your ambulance?).  Outraged patients are baffled by their inability to achieve any form of transparent accountability.  My fear is that we may see distressed relatives or, worse still, vulnerable people having to be paraded in the press to prove the point that they are vulnerable and being let down.

The dilemma is that the public need to be aware of these shifts but the lack of privacy for someone with profound disabilities renders them even more vulnerable.  My question is, if lawyers don’t protect these people, who will?

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