When we’re ill, we place our faith in the medical profession to look after us properly and do everything in their power to help us get better as quickly as possible. Most doctors, dentists and other health professionals carry out their duties to the highest standards, but we’ve all heard the horror stories about a cancer diagnosis being made when it’s too late, or poor standards of post-operative care. If you think you have suffered poor treatment at the hands of a medical professional, you might be able to put forward a claim for clinical negligence.
What is Clinical Negligence?
Clinical negligence, which was previously known as medical negligence, does not just cover something that a doctor does which results in injury or further medical problems. It can also cover things which the medical profession omits to do, such as failing to refer a patient for further tests, or not checking up on them after an operation. There is a very wide range of behaviours and events which may or may not be clinical negligence, so it is very important to get advice from an experienced clinical negligence solicitor at an early stage to confirm whether you may have a claim or not.
In legal terms, negligence has a very specific definition. You cannot claim a doctor was negligent because you had a personality clash with them, or even because an operation didn’t go quite as you had expected. In order to prove negligence, you have to prove that other doctors faced with the same situation would have done something differently. Again, sometimes this is very clear cut and obvious, but often it is more of a judgement call and in order to prove negligence you will need to get expert opinion to argue your case.
In order to bring a claim for clinical negligence, you also have to prove that you have suffered because of the actions of the medical professional concerned. Suffering does not have to mean being left in agony, it can also include things such as having to cope with a longer recovery time, facing further operations in the future, or having to take more time off work because of the medical procedure. Circumstances are different for everyone, and as sometimes the consequences of medical negligence can be life-changing, the sums of money involved are often considerable. With so much at stake, it is vitally important that you have a professional and experienced clinical negligence solicitor on the case who can help you get every penny of compensation which you are entitled to.
Claims Process for Clinical Negligence
Once you have decided to start your claim for clinical negligence, the first thing you must do is find an experienced medical negligence lawyer to help you prepare your case – this is not something which you can do by yourself. Most lawyers working in clinical negligence do so on a no win, no fee basis which reduces your financial risk in putting your case forward.
At the first meeting, your lawyer will discuss the circumstances of your claims with you and give you a general indication of what your chances of winning the case might be. They will also talk about the levels of compensation which you might expect to achieve. First consultations are often free of charge, so you have nothing to lose by going along, explaining what has happened to you and seeing what the lawyers say.
Once your solicitor has decided that you do indeed have a case to put forward, they will then start to gather evidence to present to the other side. This evidence could include getting access to your medical files, sending you to independent experts for tests or examinations, taking statements from people involved or speaking to witnesses.
When your solicitor has all of the evidence, they will then start speaking to the NHS Trust or organisation concerned to commence negotiations. Nearly all medical negligence cases are settled before they get to court, and even if you do have to go to court to argue your case, your lawyer is the perfect person to support you through this. At the end of the process your compensation will be agreed, and your lawyer will take their agreed fee.
Timescales for Claiming
The first thing to note is that you have three years from the date of the negligent treatment, or from the date when you realised that you had suffered an injury to start your claims process. This may seem to be a long time, but when you are recovering from medical treatment or a hospital stay many months can pass before you even start thinking about getting recompense. Timescales are also different for people claiming on behalf of children, or for adults who suffered negligent treatment as a child. The key thing to remember when thinking about making a claim for clinical negligence is to get the ball rolling as soon as you can, as the most complex cases can take many months, if not years, to resolve.