No one chooses to take legal action against their GP or hospital doctor without a lot of consideration. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, but in some instances, it is an appropriate one if we feel we have been a victim of medical negligence.
GPs and hospital doctors are highly trained individuals on whom we depend to make important decisions about our health. Most of the time, the treatment we receive is at least satisfactory, but occasionally things can and do go wrong.
Because most of us have high levels of trust in medical professionals, it can sometimes feel bewildering when medical negligence has occurred. Many people are subsequently put off pursuing compensation believing the process is particularly difficult, or that the odds are stacked against them.
Some people are reluctant to instigate a claim against a GP out of a feeling of loyalty, particularly if that GP has looked after their family for a number of years without any previous negligence. They may be concerned about the consequences for their future treatment, or of having to find a new GP.
Issues around GP negligence can be as damaging to an individual’s long-term health and wellbeing as hospital negligence. When the treatment you receive is less than adequate or actively harmful to your future health and wellbeing, there are means to try and gain proper redress.
Understanding GP negligence
The standard of care provided by GPs can vary widely. As a result, the types of possible medical negligence incidents that can occur are numerous.
Some of mistakes that can be made by a GP include:
- A failure to adequately examine a patient
- A failure to perform certain tests and examinations
- A failure to properly review and then act upon an examination or test results
- The issuing of an incorrect prescription
- A failure to consult an appropriate specialist or refer the patient to a consultant.
- A failure to diagnose a serious disease
- A medical procedure being carried out incorrectly
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is helpful to think about the kind of practices and GP tasks that can lead to possible negligence.
What consequences can GP negligence have?
It’s often presumed that medical negligence is mostly an issue for hospitals, and that there’s little that can happen during a GP consultation that could have severely damaging consequences for the patient. That’s far from the case, with medical negligence in the GP practice there are a variety of incidents that can have a significant impact. For example, failure to refer a patient for cancer investigations can result in the cancer progressing, and the illness becoming much harder to treat.
Prescribing the wrong medication to patients can lead to possible side effects, some of these can be serious with long term debilitating effects. As too can a failure to properly assess how someone was responding to certain treatments, with serious issues such as liver or kidney damage as a possible result.
Serious conditions such as meningitis are sometimes missed. If unstable angina isn’t spotted it can lead to a cardiac arrest, and a failure to correctly diagnose or manage diabetes can result in serious life-limiting consequences for the patient.
Our GPs are usually our first point of contact when we are ill. It’s vital that they properly diagnose any conditions we may have, prescribe the right medication and if necessary, refer us to specialists for further treatment. The failure to do any of those things correctly can result in conditions getting progressively worse.
If you believe your GP failed to properly carry out their duties and you suffered harm as a result, then you might be able to make a successful medical negligence claim.
Make a complaint
The first step many people who believe they have been a victim of medical negligence take is to make a complaint to their GP practice. If your first concern is to receive an apology, or a full explanation of what happened, this should always be your first step. It can be useful not only in helping to provide closure for the individual concerned, but also in ensuring that lessons are learnt and similar mistakes are not made again.
When you are making a complaint, you should try and include the following information:
- The time and date of your treatment, and where it took place
- The names of all the individuals involved
- A description of exactly what happened
- The reason why you are making your complaint
- The questions you want answering
You don’t have to make a complaint through the NHS complaints procedure before launching legal action. It can be useful, however, as it may give you more information on which to base your decision about further action. It could also provide valuable information in any medical negligence claim you decide to pursue.
Taking things further
Even if you’ve received an explanation or apology from the individual GP, healthcare practice or provider, it’s still possible to pursue a claim for medical negligence against your doctor.
Medical negligence is a complex area of law and every case is different. Therefore, it’s important to contact a solicitor with experience in the field who will be able to advise you about the likelihood of your claim being successful.
The procedure can feel daunting but our experienced team of medical negligence specialists can provide you with considered advice and support in making your claim.
Will making a claim affect how my GP treats me?
If you’re still under the care of the GP about whom you’re making the claim, or are still registered at the same practice, you may be concerned that the treatment you receive will be influenced by making a claim. GPs are not allowed to treat you any differently just because you’re taking legal action. If you suspect they are, this in itself could be a legal matter.
Is your claim valid?
The first question we will consider is the validity of your medical negligence claim.
For your claim to qualify as medical negligence, it will need to be proven that the medical practitioner was at fault, and that fault caused you harm. In addition to this, medical negligence compensations claims must be filed with the court within 3 years of the incident that caused harm or injury taking place.
There are some exceptions to this time limit, if for example you discovered the harm done to you months or even years after the initial incident. Your specialist medical negligence solicitor will be able to provide you with advice based on the details of your individual case.
You claim will only proceed further if you are able to satisfy two conditions:
- Liability – it can be shown that your GP was performing at a lower standard than similar professionals in the same field.
- Causation – you will need to be able to prove that the harm done to you was as a direct result of the negligent action, and otherwise would not have occurred. The balance of probabilities applies, so there will need to be at least a 50% chance that the harm was caused by the initial incident.
Medicine is a constantly evolving science with competing schools of thought. If other doctors are willing to vouch that they too would have undertaken the same course of action as the GP about whom you’re making a case, then your claim is unlikely to go any further.
These questions need to be explored as quickly as possible to ensure that you can make a claim within the time limit. Contacting a specialist solicitor to discuss your case should therefore be a priority.
The time limit
The Time Limitation Act 1980 set out a time limit of 3 years for medical negligence claims to be made. This is known in legal terms as “the date of knowledge”. This could be the date when the negligence occurred, or much later when the harm was discovered. You may be unsure about the exact date when the three years started.
The limit is for formally lodging the claim with the court, not just for contacting a solicitor, so it’s important to act as quickly as you can.
There are some exceptions to the three-year time limit:
- Under 18s – anyone under the age of 18 when the incident occurred, has three years from the date of their 18th birthday to make a claim in their own right.
- Mental illness – if the claimant was suffering from a diagnosed mental illness at the time of the incident, the three-year period doesn’t start until they are considered fully recovered.
- Brain damage – if the injury caused to the claimant was brain damage that resulted in them not being able to conduct their own affairs, then there is no time limit for making a claim.
- Death – if the claimant dies, either as a result of the negligence or any other cause, the limitation for their family to bring forward a claim is three years from the date of death. If they die while making a claim, then the family have three years from the date of death to decide to continue with the claim.
Assessing your losses
When assessing the claimant’s losses, they will need to be presented in terms of pain and suffering, mental anguish, impact on quality of life, and the loss of earnings, past, present and future. It will need to be demonstrated that these losses are a result of the negligence, not underlying medical conditions. These losses will be calculated by your solicitor, who will consult similar cases in the past and estimate an average pay-out. Any final calculation will of course take inflation into account.
This is the lengthiest part of the claim process. Your solicitor will ask for your medical records, including any notes or details that were recorded at the time of the negligence. The solicitor will then put together a written statement containing the details of your claim, which you need to sign. It will then be forwarded to independent medical experts to assess the standard of care you received from your GP.
Once the best course of action has been settled on by all the parties, a formal Letter of Claim will be sent to the practice or doctor in question. The defendant then has four months to respond, either in form of an admittance that the details in the claim are correct, or a refusal of the case.
If they admit the claim, your solicitor can immediately begin negotiating a reasonable settlement. A settlement can be reached any time prior to the case going to court. If the value of your claim cannot be agreed in a timely fashion, then court proceedings may be necessary.
Get in touch for expert medical negligence advice
The process of making a medical negligence claim can feel long and convoluted, but the level of pay-outs can make it worth persevering. If you believe you’ve been a victim of GP negligence our team of experienced medical negligence experts want to hear from you. Get in touch today for confidential advice about your case.