Sometimes errors occur during the course of our medical journeys. We may go to the doctor about a small inconvenience that then becomes a major problem. Or we may find that our time in the outpatient clinic drags on.
Disgruntled patients in these situations may feel they have been wronged and want to take the issue further. Indeed, medical negligence claims are always available to patients who have been negatively impacted by the healthcare system. But when is it a case of medical negligence – and when is it not?
The first stage in the medical negligence claim is that the patient is confident that some kind of negligence did occur. For instance, being left in the waiting room of A&E on a busy night for longer than the expected time or having to wait six months for a follow-up appointment can’t be counted as negligence. However, catching an illness due to unhygienic procedures or discovering a surgeon has made unnecessary physical changes to internal organs, for example, can definitely be considered medically negligent.
The four Ds of medical negligence: duty of care, dereliction of duty, direct causation, and damages help assess whether a claim can be made. The first refers to an existing duty of care being in place: or, was the doctor your doctor? So, if ramifications occurred during a flight from medical care a doctor prescribed onboard, they had no duty of care in this instance. But if your established clinician gave advice or performed surgery to injure you, then there could be grounds for negligence.
The second point touches on the failure to do something correctly to the set of care standards (on purpose or by accident), while the third and fourth refer to establishing direct causation between the doctor’s actions and any damages you have experienced.
Medical negligence claims usually take a long time to settle – it’s difficult in some cases to provide evidence that the negligence lies with the medical practitioner. Each case will differ from the last, so precedent can be hard to follow. Medical negligence solicitors are able to sift through the information you give them to determine whether the case is one that could be pursued legally, regardless of the short or long-term effects.
However, if patients feel they do have a case, medical negligence cases help to ensure that there are checks and balances on healthcare systems – both for the NHS and private practitioners. Some medical negligence claims have resulted in conditions that afflict patients for life, while others may simply have occurred at the time. Some patients pursue claims because they feel they may have had a lucky escape and feel the practitioner should be taken to task to protect others in the future.
Many factors contribute to seemingly simple issues being turned into lengthy processes. Waiting times and caseloads for doctors, nurses, consultants, and specialists can determine how long it takes for care to be administered. So, issues that occur due to the doctor’s hands being tied by the system are more complex to apportion blame. If a seemingly benign diagnosis becomes more sinister while a patient is waiting for a follow-up, the doctors can’t be held as accountable as if they have done something wrong themselves.
Medical negligence is a complex area. If you feel you do have a case, then it could be worthwhile discussing it. Experts may warn you that it would simply take too long and be too complex to guarantee any positive outcome. Or the case could be one that helps set a future precedent that could be followed. The law is stringent in this area to protect doctors and patients alike.