Medical Negligence: What You Need to Know

No profession is infallible and mistakes can occur within the healthcare sector as with any other. However, the gulf between human errors that can be resolved without any harm to the patient and gross medical negligence is a wide one. Figures from the NHS Litigation Authority website show that 8,655 claims of clinical negligence and 4,346 claims of non-clinical negligence against NHS bodies were received during 2010/11; up from a figure of 6,652 claims of clinical negligence and 4,074 claims of non-clinical negligence in 2009/10.

Whether this demonstrates an increase in the incidences of negligence or simply that more people are making claims is unclear. What it does highlight however is that patients, or families of patients, feel that they are entitled to compensation if they feel they have not received the optimum standards of care or suffered negligence by doctors, nurses, dentists or others in the medical profession.

Examples of clinical negligence include those in relation to medication, diagnosis, surgery, psychiatric care, psychotherapy, counselling, dentistry, delay in treatment, and childbirth (including damage to the unborn child).

What to do if you suspect medical negligence?

Negligence is defined as the breach of a legal duty of care owed to one person by another which results in damage being caused to that person.

In the case of hospital negligence patients may want to try the NHS complaints procedure as their first port of call with the option to take their complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, a body that is independent of the NHS and government, if they are not satisfied with outcome.

The following elements need to be in place in order for a clinical negligence case to be successful:

  1. That a duty to take care and not cause injury was owed by doctor or other healthcare professional to the patient.
  2. That the duty to take care was breached.
  3. That breach of duty has caused harm to the claimant; and
  4. That losses or damages have occurred as a result of that harm.

What you can do to support your case

NHS or private health records that are held by a GP, optician, a dentist or by a hospital can be obtained under the Data Protection Act 1998. Your request can be submitted by email or in writing directly to the appropriate healthcare professional, although a fee may be charged. This information may help to provide background information for your case.

Talking to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS), available in all hospitals, may also help to give you clarity over your case. PALS officers offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters to patients.

You can also contact a lawyer specialising in medical negligence cases to support you in the process of making a claim.

According to Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society of England and Wales:

“Conditional fees, or no win, no fee arrangements, currently provide the only method available to most victims of obtaining justice.”

If you believe that you have been a victim of medical negligence, you can contact us today for confidential advice about your claim without obligation.