Medical negligence

Tavistock Clinic: the story so far

Our experts discuss the NHS Tavistock gender identity clinic facing legal action after worrying reports of negligence.

13 June 2023

The NHS Tavistock Centre is facing mass legal action, causing grave concern amongst many. Here, our medical negligence experts discuss the news, and the legal implications this might have.

The story so far

The worrying news about the Tavistock Centre comes after claims that children treated there were misdiagnosed and rushed into transitioning at a young age. The issues have been gradually building over recent years, and the clinic in question, The Gender Identity Services (GID) clinic, was due to be shut down by the NHS by Spring 2023, though this has now been delayed to March 2024. This comes after staff revealed concerns about the direction of the clinic from as early as 2006.

Further criticism has followed in an independent review by Dr Hilary Cass OBE, a consultant in paediatric disability at the Evelina Hospital. Dr Cass was commissioned by the NHS in Autumn 2020 to make recommendations about NHS services provided to children and young people who are questioning their gender identity or experiencing gender incongruence. This is known as “The Cass Review” and is currently at an interim stage awaiting final recommendations.

The Interim Review puts into question the treatment received by thousands of young patients from the clinic in recent years. As a result, there has been speculation from law firms that the issues arising from the closing of the clinic, and the anticipated review findings, could lead to mass litigation, or a Group Litigation order (“GLO”).

Our expert opinion

We understand that claimants are vulnerable and often scared of the legal process, and there will be a lot of uncertainty about what legal action in this case might look like. Slater and Gordon’s specialism in group litigation cases leads us to specifically comment on the suggestion that litigation against the clinic be dealt with by way of GLO (Group Litigation Order). Principal lawyer Laura Preston, who worked on the Paterson case both during the initial litigation and on an ongoing basis, spoke on this in an interview with iNews. She said that “It would definitely be up there as one of the highest numbers [in medical negligence lawsuits]” Still, she added that “experience tells me things come out in the wash, and whether that’s 1,000 legitimate cases is a very different question.”

With each case and client likely to have a unique story and individual issues, it’s unlikely that these cases would proceed under a GLO. To do so, the legal teams involved would need to interrogate the evidence to find patterns between patients’ experiences at the clinic. Laura added, “What you need to put before the court is evidence that each of these cases have a lot of similarities, not just that they’re a bit similar – it has to be the same issues coming out time and again”.

Whilst the Cass review has identified a huge number of issues which will run through each case, experts will need to determine whether those issues lead to the clinic breaching its duty of care to its patients and if so, what harm was caused.

Our client

We’re representing Ritchie Herron in his medical negligence claim against the Tavistock Gender Clinic. Ritchie has spoken about his experience with the gender clinic in the media, discussing how he felt pushed into undergoing gender reassignment surgery after receiving therapy for over 2 years.

We admire Ritchie’s advocacy to ensure that safeguards are adopted for those considering, and currently undergoing, gender reassignment. Slater and Gordon is passionate about ensuring transitioning support is available to those that need it whilst also making sure that appropriate safeguards are in place for vulnerable individuals.

Hear from Ritchie and our medical negligence expert, Laura Preston, in their interview with Times Radio here.

Similar cases managed to our experts

This is similar to our experts’ recent work on the Ian Paterson litigation, which proceeded by way of test cases rather than GLO. In 2015, Slater and Gordon lead the Paterson Litigation against disgraced surgeon Ian Paterson. This was headed by Emma Doughty, head of our medical negligence team, and principal lawyer Laura Preston. This was, and still is, the largest European litigation to occur against a single surgeon. The complex process took place from 2015 until a final settlement was reached in 2017 for the sum of £37 million.

Slater and Gordon put forward several cases highlighting the specific issues experienced by the claimants, which were similar but not identical. It allowed the court to consider there being a pattern, but in each individual case, damages were assessed on the intricacies of that patient’s unique history and experience and the harm they as an individual suffered.

Tavistock cases will almost certainly require the same individualised approach. This will likely mean a much higher level of compensation for affected claimants than in a “one size fits all” GLO approach. It will be key that these vulnerable individuals approach a firm not only with a team of clinical negligence specialists, but one that also has the required experience in group litigation. Our experts are specialists in this area of law, with a long-standing history of working on these types of cases.

The damages ensured compensation for thousands of claimants who had been affected by Ian Paterson’s negligence. Since then, Slater and Gordon has continued to serve victims of Ian Paterson by providing compensation under the Second Trust, set up by Spire Healthcare in July 2021. Each victim’s case is being reviewed and compensated on an individual basis, an approach that Slater and Gordon believe is fundamental in such complex cases.

As a result of the sheer number of claimants and the issues it involved, the Paterson case brought mass media attention. The scale of the problem at this private hospital, and within NHS Heartlands hospital, was unbelievable to many. Ian Paterson, was convicted of 20 counts of GBH between approximately 1999 and 2011 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. This was an unprecedented case which raised further issues of trust between patients and the NHS.

Following the litigation, an independent review of Spire’s hospital was commissioned which, like the ongoing Tavistock clinic report, aimed to identify, and provide recommendations for, the issues within the hospital. In early 2020, The Right Reverend Graham James published his recommendations which included stark criticism of the management and lack of governance within the hospital. Spire has provided assurance that those recommendations are being put in place and has also set up a Second Compensation Fund for others affected by negligence.

Though it took many years for his victims to obtain justice, and there’s still work to be done, we believe this case should give reassurance that justice could be found here too. We are confident that with the right legal teams in place, individuals affected by their experience at GIDS Tavistock may obtain compensation too, and the NHS could review how it deals with vulnerable young people experiencing gender identity crises. It’s important to note that in this case it appears whistle-blowers within the Trust were listened to. While this was potentially delayed, it does represent a positive step in comparison to other similar NHS scandals.

How can Slater and Gordon help

If you or a loved one have been affected by the issues emerging from the Tavistock Centre, our specialist legal experts are here to help. To speak to us today in a free, confidential consultation, and talk through any concerns or questions you might have, call us today on 0330 041 5869, or contact us online here.

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