What are the effects of making a medical negligence claim?

For most people with little or no understanding of the law, the whole area of medical negligence can seem complicated, even a little daunting. It can put people off pursuing claims, even when they feel they have a legitimate reason to make one. They might feel it’s financially prohibitive to make a claim, or that their case isn’t serious.

As specialist medical negligence solicitors, we talk to lots of people whose lives have been impacted by treatment that fell below an appropriate standard. They often voice a range of concerns about their claim, some of which we look at here.

Can I prevent the same thing happening to others?

People often presume that the main motivation for making a medical negligence claim is financial – That the claimant is seeking financial redress for what happened to them. Perhaps their careers suffered as a result, or they incurred lots of extra unexpected costs. Maybe they are looking for financial compensation for the pain and mental anguish they experienced as a result of negligence.

Some medical negligence claims involve procedures that were deeply traumatic resulting in ongoing stress and other mental health issues. The medical negligence process is designed to provide compensation that puts the victim in the position they were in before the incident happened. Strictly speaking, the aim is restitution rather than compensation.

While it would be wrong to downplay the importance of financial compensation for a victim of medical negligence, in most cases, it only plays a small part in their reasons for pursuing a claim.

Many want to ensure that a similar incident doesn’t happen to anyone else. They want proper attention to be paid to what happened to them and for tangible action to be taken. They may initially have had little intention of pursuing a medical negligence claim but were prompted to do so by frustration at how their complaint was dealt with. If they feel they have something important to share with the clinician and it has been dismissed, then they may feel that a claim is the only course of action left to them. They may not feel listened to and that communication has completely broken down between themselves and the clinician. They may no longer trust the clinician or the medical practice to take adequate action. They may feel their complaint is not being taken seriously and their concerns are dismissed.

If this is the case and the claimant is keen to ensure that no-one else should be the victim of anything similar, then a medical negligence claim may be the only route forward. By making the claim you can prompt the professional involved and the employer to investigate the incident further. This can lead to action being taken to minimise risk and a change in practice. Medical negligence claims have in the past been a catalyst for major changes in how some treatments are delivered.

Will a medical negligence claim affect my treatment going forward?

No two medical negligence claims are the same, but it can take between 12-36 months to complete a medical negligence claim. This length of time can be a concern for people, particularly if they’re in need of ongoing medical treatment.

People considering making a medical negligence claim often raise concerns about how it might impact on their future treatment, particularly in the year to three years when the claim is being considered. They may have limited alternative options locally for their treatment. They worry that their treatment will be disrupted or will somehow suffer.

This should not be the case. In fact, medical practitioners are legally required to provide the same level of treatment even if you have made a medical negligence claim against them.  You may feel personally uncomfortable being treated by the person against whom you are making the claim. Trust plays a large part in medical treatment and if you no longer have confidence in a medical practitioner then it’s not unreasonable to ask to be seen by another clinician. Most medical establishments will want to honour your request.

Medical practices in the UK are not allowed to refuse treatment to someone who has made a complaint in the past.  If you decide to move GP practices no record of your claim should be passed onto them. If you remain at the same practice you should be treated no differently because of your claim. If you feel that you are being treated differently it’s important to complain to the practice manager, or to your solicitor who will be able to offer advice about how you should proceed. The practice cannot attempt to force you to change to a different practice.

In practice, most medical providers have well worked out complaint procedures. These should ensure that your complaint and your treatment are kept entirely separate. They should try to ensure that you are treated fairly and that your claim is never mentioned during your treatment.

No one makes the decision to make a medical negligence claim lightly and claimants always have a range of concerns. Fear of being treated differently by medical practitioners due to making a claim shouldn’t influence your decision.

Is a claim only about money?

If you were to believe the tabloid press, people who make medical negligence claims are largely motivated by personal greed, aided and abetted by legal firms out to make money on the back of someone else’s misfortune.

The caricature is far from the truth. Medical negligence claims are complicated and lengthy processes with no guarantee of success. If a claim is successful, the settlement offered may well be modest. The aim of the medical negligence process is not to offer compensation, but restitution. Any settlement is not designed to lead to a life of luxury for the claimant. Instead it is about ensuring they have a similar quality of life to that which they had prior to the incident. Medical negligence solicitors always spell this out to potential claimants from the very beginning. If anyone is entering the medical negligence process with thoughts of making money, then they are misguided.

Talking to clients, we find they have a range of different motivations for pursuing a claim. Firstly, there is the distress, pain and inconvenience that has been caused by the incident. People lose their jobs, sometimes relationships, they can no longer enjoy activities they once enjoyed, and find their lives severely limited by medical negligence. In some cases, the negligence can ultimately lead to premature death.  

Most of them will already have made a complaint about what happened to them not expecting to have to take the process any further. The response they received through the complaints procedure may not have addressed their concerns. They may feel they weren’t listened to, or that the approach of the professionals dealing with their complaint was dismissive. This can lead to intense frustration and feelings of powerlessness. People are often at their wits end when they approach us having exhausted every available option short of making a claim.

High levels of trust are placed in medical professionals and when it’s felt that this trust has broken down it can leave claimants feeling bewildered. These emotional responses can all play a part in why people decide to pursue a claim, but without real substance to the claim a legal professional is unlikely to take on the case.

They may hope to receive a proper apology for what happened to them and to find closure for what has been a traumatic incident. This can be just as important as any financial payment when it comes to helping someone move on with their life.

Ensuring that the incident is properly investigated and lessons are learnt is another key motivation. Claimants don’t want something similar to happen to anyone else.  They may want the clinicians involved to be properly held to account for their mistakes.

The reasons for pursuing a medical negligence claim are complex and varied. No two cases are the same, but money is rarely, if ever, the principal motivation for our clients.

What happens to the doctors and nurses involved in my claim?

It may be surprising, but one of the main concerns of people making a medical negligence claim is what might happen to the doctors and nurses involved in the initial incident. People are genuinely concerned that the impact on the lives and careers of the professionals involved might be detrimental to the point of career ending.

There are high levels of respect for the NHS in the UK. Doctors and nurses are trusted much more than members of other professions. In most cases we may feel that any medical negligence of which we were a victim was a rare mistake on behalf of the individual, rather than part of a consistent pattern. That’s mostly the case. Medical professionals are highly trained individuals who operate within strict frameworks designed to minimise mistakes and ensure patient care. But these frameworks are not foolproof and even the most diligent of professionals can make mistakes. When that professional is a doctor or other health professional, the consequences can be drastic for the patient.

When a medical negligence claim is made the health professional in question will likely seek advice and support from their particular professional body, such as the British Medical Association or the Royal College of Nursing. They may receive support in their workplace, which is likely to have a tried and tested procedure for dealing with medical negligence claims.

It’s possible there will be an internal investigation into what happened in this specific case. A claim also highlights areas where staff need further training or improvement can be made to the process, or new processes introduced.

Medical indemnity insurance is a legal requirement for any medical professional working in the UK. This insures them and their practice against medical negligence claims, so neither the professional nor the practice will be left out of pocket should your claim be successful. This reflects the understanding that mistakes do sometimes happen and that medical negligence claims may sometimes be unavoidable.

In some instances, the medical negligence claim may be so severe and life-changing that the claimant is keen to ensure the practitioner faces consequences for their action. Pursuing a claim can be a way to prove that a serious mistake happened and that the professional involved should not be practising. A successful claim may in some cases lead to a lengthy suspension, or a requirement that the professional undergoes further training. In some cases, the negligence incident may be so severe that that they are never allowed to practice again.

Medical negligence claims are not uncommon across the health sector and most organisations will have developed procedures for dealing with them. This will include ensuring that professionals involved are supported throughout the claim, and that adequate action is taken to resolve the issue. Employers will also be keen to ensure that health practitioners are conducting their duties at a satisfactory level and will support them in acquiring or re-acquiring the appropriate skills to ensure incidents don’t reoccur.

By not proceeding with a medical negligence claim you may feel you are helping a professional who you think made an honest mistake. In reality, complaints and medical negligence claims can be the necessary prompt to ensure that a similar mistake doesn’t happen again.

Talk to the medical negligence specialists

If you feel you have been the victim of medical negligence and you don’t feel that your complaint has been properly dealt with, then our team of experienced medical negligence specialists would be happy to hear from you. We can provide confidential and impartial advice about your circumstances and explore if a claim might be appropriate.

Get in touch today to learn more about how we can help.