Being admitted to hospital can often be a scary and daunting experience, for both the patient and their families, especially when you are waiting to find out your diagnosis. But we get through this experience by knowing we are in the safe and capable hands of the doctors, nurses and surgeons.
However, things can, and do, go wrong. The treatment you receive may not have provided the outcome you expected, which may not be your fault. Hospital negligence is an unfortunate and often damaging side effect of medical care. In 2012/2013 over 160,000 patients made claims against the NHS for hospital negligence, which is only a small percentage of those actually affected. And numbers are continuing to rise with 2015/2016 seeing £1.4 billion of compensation awards, an increase on £1 billion in 2014/2015.
Causes of hospital negligence
Medical professionals have a “duty of care” to their patient and, if breached, this can be classed as hospital negligence. This usually means the patient has suffered an injury due to the actions or decisions of a healthcare professional and can include:
- making a mistake during the procedure or operation
- failing to get the patient’s consent when delivering treatment
- failing to warn the patient about possible risks and/or side-effects to a treatment
- making the wrong diagnosis
- failing to diagnose the patient’s condition
- prescribing the wrong drugs or treatment
- failing to operate when necessary
- neglecting to look at a patient’s medical history before treatment
- failing to notice a patient’s health is deteriorating under treatment
- making mistakes during surgical procedures
- neglecting to provide adequate aftercare to a patient after surgery
Different types of hospital negligence cases
In most cases, hospital negligence cases are usually filed into four different categories:
- Contributory Negligence: this is where the claimant is found responsible for their injuries and therefore no compensation is awarded.
- Comparative Negligence: this is where the claimant is found partially at fault for their injuries, therefore the court will decide how much the claimant and the medical professional are liable.
- Vicarious Liability: this is where the organisation managing the medical professional who caused the injury is clearly at fault. For example, the clinic that employs the nurse or surgeon who caused the injury.
- Gross Negligence: this is where the medical professional has been proven to breach their duty of care for the patient. In many instances gross negligence cases end up in criminal court. If found guilty the professional could have their professional licence revoked.
What should I do if I believe I have been the victim of hospital neglect?
It is often difficult to know what to do if you believe you are a victim of hospital neglect. In the first instance you must compile a file of evidence to prove your claim.
This should include:
- letters received from the medical professional
- details of how the injury has affected your life
- any financial losses
- the details of the medical professional you believe is responsible
- photographs of the injury where possible
- reports and test results
- appointment details
- all medical documents you have received
You should also seek a second opinion where another medical professional can assess you, your injuries and their effects. This will usually require you to undertake a full medical examination and you should include the full report in your evidence.
Once you have all your information collated you should contact a legal advice helpline to assess your claim and decide whether you can claim compensation and, if so, what you can claim for. There are many things you can claim for including:
- adapting your home
- loss of earnings
- pain and suffering
- costs for on-going treatment
- any additional care or equipment required
- psychological damage
- funeral expenses
- medical expenses
- care costs
Starting a claim
If an NHS professional caused your negligence you need to sue the NHS Trust responsible. However, if your treatment was from a medical professional at a private hospital you should sue the individual you deem responsible. There may be some exceptions which a legal professional will be able to advise you on. There is also more detailed information about the process available on the legalhelpline.co.uk website.
There are time limits for starting hospital negligence cases and you must start your case within 3 years of either the date the incident happened or the date you realised you suffered the injury. This differs for children with the 3-year time limit starting once they reach 18 years of age.
It is also worth noting that claims can only be made on your behalf if you cannot manage your own affairs due to a mental disability. In this instance the 3-year time limit only applies if you recover from your disability.
Hospital negligence cases require a full, in-depth investigation with the average case taking between 12-18 months to be settled. Each case is judged on its own merits which means that payments vary from case to case. Your solicitor will be able to assess the severity of your case and advise you accordingly.
Funding your claim
When it comes to the costs your may incur, unfortunately hospital negligence claims were removed from Legal Aid in 2013, however there may be certain cases for claims involving children. For all other cases, it may be worth seeking the help of a legal firm that offers Conditional Fee Arrangements. Often known as “no win no fee” they will deduct their fees from any compensation awarded. However, if you do not win your case you won’t owe them anything.
The effects of hospital negligence can be life changing and often leaves patients and their families struggling to cope, but with the right support and advice, many can gain financial compensation, which although cannot change the past or just injuries sustained, it can certainly help to make the future a little easier to manage.