A man who sued an NHS trust for libel after he was accused of threatening a psychological therapist has won £5,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
John Allman, 58, of Okehampton, Devon, said the decision demonstrates that health professionals who make defamatory accusations against patients or their relatives in written correspondence are “not above the law”.
But despite the settlement, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said it “has not accepted the claims made by Mr Allman.”
It said the settlement was based on legal advice to ensure the best use of public funds.
Mr Allman had accused Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust of libel after a psychiatric nurse accused him of being “threatening and confrontational” to a therapist working for a psychology and counselling service, Outlook Southwest, based in Lostwithiel, Cornwall.
He said the nurse’s “untrue and defamatory” allegations were based on “gossip” between health professionals.
In November 2009, Mr Allman had accompanied his pregnant partner, Amanda Palmer, who was suffering from anxiety, to an appointment with Outlook Southwest therapist Magdalena Dolhan.
He complained to Outlook Southwest after Ms Dolhan referred Ms Palmer to a psychiatrist. This was against the request of both Ms Palmer and her GP, said Mr Allman. Ms Palmer was traumatised from being detained under the Mental Health Act in 2007, said Mr Allman.
Mr Allman later found out that a psychiatric nurse, Gavin Brown, who had never met Ms Palmer or Mr Allman, had written to Ms Palmer’s GP on December 4, 2009, stating Mr Allman was “at times quite threatening and confrontational towards Magdalena”.
Mr Brown also wrote that other health professionals “could also be at risk due to the partner’s [Mr Allman’s] manner/attitude and beliefs.”
Mr Allman wrote to the trust’s chief executive Lezli Boswell saying he was particularly concerned that Mr Brown’s allegations would give other mental health professionals the impression he and Mrs Palmer would be unfit parents.
Mr Allman said: “What alarmed me in particular was that the remarks made about me were based on gossip between mental health professionals. They had no basis in fact. I feel that after I complained to Outlook Southwest, the trust decided that attacking my character was the best form of defence.”
Acting without legal representation, Mr Allman, a charity worker, lodged a libel claim to the High Court.
The settlement last month to Mr Allman follows that of Jane Clift who in 2009 won £12,000 in High Court libel damages after she was labeled “potentially violent” after complaining to Slough Borough Council about a vandalised flowerbed.
Mr Allman said: “My character and reputation was defamed – and health professionals are not above the law. The Clift case which was in relation to a local authority set a precedent and helped me believe I could win my case.
“Notes written by health professionals are read by many influential people, and being accused of being threatening is a serious accusation. It was without foundation at all.”
Mr Allman, who has informally advocated for a number of psychiatric patients, said no solicitors he approached were willing to take up his case.
“The solicitors I spoke to said that the NHS trust could use the defence of qualified privilege as it was public sector professionals sharing information with each other. But my case, as well as that of Clift, shows people that they can successfully defend themselves against libel by health professionals or councils.”
In a statement Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said: “Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust has not accepted the claims made by Mr Allman.
“The trust is confident that its staff followed the appropriate policies and procedures and that these were not breached,” it said.
“The NHS has a duty to share information in order to protect staff, patients and ensure the delivery of high quality care.
“A settlement has been agreed and made. All settlements made by the trust are based on legal advice to ensure the best use of public funds.”