Living in Northern Ireland, we’re lucky to have so many qualified and caring professionals working in both the NHS and in private units across the country. However, incidences of medical negligence do exist and it’s important that patients are fully aware of their rights and the standard of care that should be expected in a medical setting.
Sadly, common key factors behind incidents of medical negligence include issues such as understaffing, insufficient hospital funding, practitioner incompetency, and a failure to provide adequate training to ensure healthcare professionals have the requisite skills and knowledge. The long list of potentially negligent parties includes doctors, nurses, dentists, consultants, midwives, surgeons, GPs, gynaecologists, plastic surgeons, opticians, and more.
When we place our well-being in the care of medical professionals, it is expected that they will provide us with a reasonable level of care and expertise in return. If this standard of care is not provided, it can have devastating and sometimes life-long consequences for the patient and their loved ones. Often this failure on the part of the healthcare professional constitutes medical negligence.
A claimant must provide two things in order to pursue a medical negligence claim. First, they must prove that a healthcare professional failed to provide an adequate standard of care (negligence) and, secondly, it must be proven that this lack of adequate care resulted in harm to the patient (causation).
You may often hear solicitors refer to a ‘breach of duty of care’. This means that the level of care received was below the standard of care that is reasonably expected from a competent and skilled professional, i.e. the patient wasn’t treated in a manner that could be considered reasonable. Healthcare professionals, have a duty of care to provide you with the best care that they can provide at that time. In order to prove medical negligence, you have to demonstrate that another similarly qualified healthcare professional would have provided a higher standard of care and would not have made the same mistake in the circumstances.
Causation (Avoidable Harm)
In order to proceed with a medical negligence claim, you must show that the negligent act (or omission) was the primary cause of the injury, harm and/or loss that you have experienced. This can cause a problem for individuals who are already suffering from a serious illness, as the negligence has to cause direct injury or harm in order for a claim to be successful.
BBC News has reported over 570 cases of medical negligence in Northern Ireland over a 3 year period from 2011 to 2014. As expected, the majority of cases were brought against the Belfast Trust, which tends to deal with more complex procedures.
In one particular case, known as ‘KD’ a landmark settlement £8m was offered to a teenage boy severely affected by cerebral palsy due to an infection he suffered straight after birth. The boy’s medical team failed to deal with the infection properly and the consequences of this were described as ‘catastrophic’ by his family. This award will ensure that the child has the necessary funds in place to pay for the daily therapy and care that he requires, and will require for the rest of his life, as a result of the negligence of the health professionals responsible for his care.
Incidents of medical negligence due to improper care at birth are more common than you might think, and this is an area that we have a considerable amount of experience in here at Worthingtons Solicitors. In 2014, a team lead by Nikki McConnell secured a compensation payment of £4.7m for a child who developed cerebral palsy due to brain damage sustained during birth. The compensation, which will be paid by annual payments throughout his lifetime, will ensure that the child will be provided with the specialised physical therapies, educational support, and nursing care that he requires as a result of his severe disabilities.
Other common examples of medical negligence include surgical errors, misdiagnosis/failure to diagnose, and poor aftercare or Nursing care. In 2013, Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust agreed to a settlement of £35,000 after one of its surgeons was accused of neglect during a gastric bypass surgery. The female patient spent two weeks fighting for survival in intensive care after the surgeon failed to properly close a small incision during the operation. As a result of further emergency surgeries and treatment, the patient was left with unsightly scars which had a devastating impact on her quality of life and mental health.
If you think you have been a victim of medical negligence, the first step is to contact a qualified solicitor who has experience in dealing with these cases. It’s important to do this as soon as possible as there is usually a three year window during which these claims can be made. However, allowances are made where the claimant is a child under the age of 18 or if an adult is mentally incapacitated. It is also recognised that this time runs only from when the injury caused by the negligence is first discovered and confirmed. It is always worth getting legal advice, irrelevant of how long ago the incident occurred.
The solicitor will initially request copies of your medical records and from the Trust and/or your GP. An opinion from a medical expert in the relevant field will also be required. As the medical community in NI is small, practitioners based here often know each other professionally and personally and cannot therefore act as independent experts. Fortunately, at Worthingtons, we have a large database of tried and tested experts from England and Wales, Scotland and ROI, who are willing to provide opinions on NI cases.
Although medical negligence cases are often complex and long running, many claims settle before reaching trial.
If you have been the victim of medical negligence, we will ensure you receive the compensation you are entitled to, for the pain and suffering you have endured, as well as for any financial losses you have suffered or will suffer, as a result. At Worthingtons Solicitors, we provide a personalised service so that you can discuss your claim in a welcoming, safe, and confidential environment. As experts in the area of medical negligence, we can best advise you whether to proceed with your claim and discuss how to best move forward.
Legal Aid is often available to support medical negligence cases.
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