In the UK, millions of people are treated by their local primary care doctor every year. The vast majority of these cases are resolved to the satisfaction of the patient. Diagnoses are performed, and treatments prescribed, and ultimately the problem goes away.
But even if the NHS were an almost-perfect health system, it’s run by fallible human beings and the fallible systems they’ve put in place. When millions of patients are receiving treatment, it’s inevitable that a minority of those patients will not be treated properly. Moreover, in a minority of that minority of cases, the mistreatment will amount to medical negligence.
The role of a doctor in patient care
Under the law, your GP owes you what’s called a duty of care. If they fail to provide you with the care you need, then they might be held accountable. This is where the law concerning negligence comes in.
How to know if your doctor has been negligent
In law, negligence means that the doctor has failed in their duty of care. The mistake should be severe enough that it would not have been committed by a competent member of the same profession (in court, this often means getting another doctor in to judge whether the mistake is understandable). On top of this, the patient will need to have suffered as a result of the doctor’s actions. So, mistakes which don’t cause a problem aren’t negligence.
Common examples of medical negligence
Most negligence fits into a few obvious categories. If you’re unsure whether your situation amounts to negligence, it’s worth checking whether you fall into any of the following:
If your doctor tells you that you have a different problem from the one you really have, then it could delay your getting the treatment you really need. What’s more, the misdiagnosis could cause you to be treated in a way that’s actually painful and counterproductive.
Even if the diagnosis is correct, then it might still be negligent if it doesn’t arrive in a timely fashion. So, if your doctor doesn’t spot that you have an obvious problem until it’s too late to treat it, they are probably negligent.
Inaccurate or unnecessary amputation
Sometimes, it’s necessary to amputate a limb in order to save a patient. You might think ‘inaccurate’ here means cutting off the wrong limb – but cutting off the right limb in the wrong place might also qualify. If your doctor needs to cut off a finger and ends up cutting off the entire hand, or arm, then negligence might have been committed.
Mistakes happen in the operating theatre, and they’re often highly consequential. Loss of life is an extreme possibility. Leaving foreign objects inside the patient is also a potential problem.
If you’re given the wrong treatment, then you might suffer severe and avoidable side-effects, and delay the administration of the right treatment. So, this is often negligence.
Making a claim
To make a successful claim, you’ll need to prove that you’ve suffered as a result of negligence. This might mean providing evidence of loss of earnings, or providing an account of the pain and suffering you’ve gone through. The right solicitor will guide you through what’s necessary. In many cases, they’ll act on a no-win, no-fee basis – and you shouldn’t have to appear in person.