Medical Negligence: An Overview

Tuesday, 20th September, 2011


It is a sad but unfortunately unavoidable fact of life that every day in the UK people can suffer or even die as a result of medical negligence, or when medical treatment falls short of the ideal.

Obviously the vast majority of medical professionals expect themselves to always do the best they can for their patients, and we learn to expect nothing less from them. In many cases issues don’t even qualify as medical negligence; they are so minor that no harm might have come from the mistake.

These small cases of medical negligence can come about for such a variety of reasons that blame cannot always be fairly appointed. The patient may have failed to mention a symptom, or the Doctor may not have asked the right question. It’s only in extremely rare cases – such as the murder of patients by Harold Shipman – which cases of deliberate harm come into play, and fortunately situations like that horrific story are incredibly rare.

But, in the grey area between outright deliberate professional negligence and the harmless slip-ups that may well be unnoticed, there is the potential for mistakes to be made in the care or treatment of patients. It is these cases that lead to the vast majority of successful medical negligence claims; when a doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional has failed for whatever reason to provide the best possible service to someone in their care, and that failure has led to unfortunate consequences for the patient or their family.

The causes of cases that can be defined as medical negligence are as varied as the illnesses and treatments that people suffer from. From the point of view of the medical professional, it is often obvious why something could go wrong. They are human beings, are as fallible as the rest of us, and everyone – yes everyone – makes errors now and then. In the case of medical errors, it is worth remembering that illnesses vary widely from how they might appear in the textbooks, unexpected events can occur that no-one could have predicted, and that underlying causes or other health problems can easily remain undetected despite a doctor’s best efforts.

Everyone – no matter what their profession – makes mistakes occasionally. Unfortunately for those in the medical profession the implications of these slip-ups can be far more serious than for most of us. A Bartender’s dropped cocktail or a taxi-driver’s wrong turn may be inconvenient, annoying, or affect profits – but a medical professional will have to live with a serious mistake for the rest of their lives, whether it goes down in history as ‘medical negligence’ or not.

When things do go wrong, it can be very hard to accept that the people involved did their best, and human mistakes are an unavoidable part of life. Most people actually just want their upset and disappointment to be allayed with a simple explanation and apology from the person at fault. Often however, if this ‘owning up’ is not forthcoming, patients or relatives feel there is no choice but to get to the truth in court, and often also turn to seeking compensation for medical negligence.

Some cases can be settled directly with the health authority concerned through their own complaints and settlement procedures. Local authorities in the UK also run patient advice and liaison services, which may offer a way forward. However for many people involved in medical negligence cases, making a compensation claim with the aid of a skilled and specialised solicitor will be the best way forward.

If you believe you have been wronged, or if medical negligence of any kind has led to a decline in your quality of life, worsened health or even excessive care costs that you will need help to meet, making a medical negligence claim may be the only way for you to move on and get over what has happened to you or your family.

 

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