What can you do if you think you have been a victim of medical negligence?
Believing that something has gone wrong with the medical treatment either you or a loved one has received is understandably very worrying. It can leave people feeling vulnerable and in need of answers.
The first step you should take is speak to the medical clinicians about your concerns. The NHS strives to work with a duty of candour, which means that all healthcare professionals should be open and honest with their patients when something seems to have gone wrong with the care provided. Sometimes, an explanation and an apology will be enough to help you understand what has happened, and move on from it.
Making a Complaint of medical negligence
If, having spoken to the medical staff, you feel as though there are still unanswered questions about what has happened, it can be helpful to make a complaint.
The NHS has a formal complaints procedure which is free, and which can often give you the answers you are looking for. You will need to write a letter to the service provider. If it is a NHS hospital then you should write to the Patient and Liaison Service or PALS, who will then investigate your complaint. If you want to complain about treatment provided by your GP or a private practitioner, you should write to them directly.
You should make your complaint as soon as possible so that your recollection of events is fresh. Usually, a healthcare provider will only investigate complaints made within 12 months of the treatment in question. However, they may consider complaints made outside of this timeframe as in some cases, a patient might have been too ill to be able to make the complaint any earlier.
The professional duty of candour I mentioned above is very important in the complaints process so you can trust that your complaint will be dealt with seriously. To help the investigation in to your complaint, try and include the following in your letter/email:
- Details of the medical treatment which is causing you concern
- Where and when the events took place
- What you want to achieve from the complaint e.g. do you want a second medical opinion?
- Specific questions about your concerns – these will be addressed in the response
Once the letter has been received, you should receive an acknowledgement which will explain how your complaint will be investigated and how long this is likely to take. This can vary depending on how complicated it is and how many people need to provide input to the investigation.
There are no strict time limits about how long an investigation should take, however, you should be kept updated if it is overrunning for any reason, for example, this can happen if a doctor who was involved in the treatment has since moved on from the hospital and it has taken some time to track them down to help with the investigation. You can also chase for an update. If you feel the investigation is taking an unreasonable amount of time, you can contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to look in to the complaint on your behalf.
Making a formal complaint can be helpful. As part of the investigation, all the medical professionals involved in the treatment in question will be asked to comment on the care they provided. You should then receive a formal letter of response, addressing all the concerns you raised, and confirming what steps the care provider might be taking to ensure the same does not happen again in future. The documents and comments produced as part of the investigation will all become a part of your medical records, so you are entitled to see them if you wish.
There is lots of advice about how you can make a complaint, as well as example letters and guidance which can be found on our website.
Seeking the help of a Solicitor
If you are concerned that the medical treatment you have received is potentially negligent, then I would recommend that you contact a specialist medical negligence solicitor to discuss your concerns in more detail.
Contacting a solicitor can be daunting, and you want to be sure that the person dealing with your matter is going to give you honest, clear and straightforward advice. You are free to choose whoever you want to represent you. Here are some issues you might want to consider when making your decision:
- It is well worth ensuring that you are instructing a specialist solicitor in clinical negligence as they will have the necessary experience to ensure that your potential matter is investigated thoroughly and cost effectively (more on funding below). You can check the Law Society, Lexcel and the Chamber and Partners directory to find out about whether a law firm offers specialist services. You can also check the feedback on a firm’s website and third party review sites like Trustpilot to see how other people have found their experience with the firm.
- Personal recommendations are always helpful. If a friend or family member has needed the assistance of a lawyer, ask them how they found the experience.
- Understandably, funding is always a concern for people who find they need legal advice for the first time. In clinical negligence cases, the majority of claims are now investigated under a Conditional Fee Agreement, or a ‘No Win No Fee’ as it is more commonly known. These agreements ensure that there is no financial risk to you as if you lose the case you do not have to pay anything. If you win your case, then it is your opponent who pays for your legal fees. There may also be a deduction taken as a percentage of the final settlement towards legal costs. In some situations, your legal costs may be covered by an existing legal expenses insurance policy e.g. car or house insurance. It is always worth checking these.
- The vast majority of law firms who specialise in clinical negligence will offer a free initial meeting to discuss your potential claim, the legal process, timeframes and the funding options that are available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to. It is much better to be completely clear at the outset before signing any agreements.
Hopefully the above information is a helpful guide about the different options available to you if you are concerned that you or a loved one has received potentially negligent medical treatment. This is often a distressing time, and you might still be ill or recovering from an experience. Rest assured that there is support available to you.