The vast majority of people treated by the NHS or through private healthcare services in England and Wales will be happy with their treatment and care.
However, this is not always the case where medical services are underfunded and understaffed, and as a result errors and omissions occur. In these circumstances, what should a patient or family member do if they believe things have gone wrong?
Below is a six-point action plan that patients or family members should consider when they suspect poor medical care or negligence.
1. Ask your medical professionals questions
Even at this early stage do not hesitate to consult a medical negligence legal specialist to help you ask the right questions about your treatment and care concerns. If they are genuine specialists, the solicitor will be happy to help and answer questions on a no fee, no obligation basis.
Your first step should be to ask your doctor and nurses about any aspect of your care. From November 2014, any NHS provider has a duty of candour and a duty to inform patients when things have gone wrong. The provider has to be transparent if someone suffers severe harm, moderate harm or prolonged psychological harm as a result of a failure in care.
Why has recovery not been in line with expectation? Why has there been a delay in treatment? Why has an inquest been ordered? Why was the outcome of surgery different from what was expected? Why has the surgery made things worse and why were there no warnings that this may happen? Give them a chance to explain or resolve any issues as early as possible.
Write down the professional’s name and their answers. If the medical practitioners see you taking notes they will take your requests for information about care more seriously. In most cases, a frank discussion with your doctor or nurse will resolve the matter. Remember that no question is too silly when it comes to your health or the health of a loved one. Do not be frightened to say the lack of care and / or communication about treatment is concerning you and you are considering making a complaint.
2. Ask for a second opinion
Do not hesitate to ask for a second opinion. Doctors often consult colleagues about patient cases and will regularly have their diagnosis and treatments scrutinised. Family or carers can also ask for a second opinion on a patient’s behalf, but they will need the loved-one’s consent. Although there is no legal right to a second opinion, a healthcare professional will rarely refuse to refer you for one.
3. Make a formal complaint
If you cannot resolve the issue with your doctor or nurse then make a formal complaint to the Trust or healthcare company responsible for the hospital or GP surgery. The complaint should be made in writing with the assistance of your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). NHS complaints should be made within 12 months of the date of your treatment. There is no timescale for receiving a response to a complaint but call the Trust to ensure they have received your complaint and ask for a timescale for a response.
If a patient or family member receives an apology regarding any aspect of their treatment then it is important to go to the next stage and consult an expert clinical negligence solicitor. There could be vital financial support available that will help with rehabilitation, changes to property and vehicles, aids and equipment, private nursing care and loss of earnings.
4. Seek experienced and specialist legal advice
If you have not been able to get answers, an apology or resolve the medical condition then it is recommended that you seek expert legal advice. Medical negligence is a very complex field of law and specialist solicitors are skilled in dealing with such cases and will advise on the best approach. They also have access to medical experts who can provide professional medical opinions on your original treatment and resulting injury.
5. Get help during an inquest
If a hospital error, omission or infection, for example, is suspected to have played a part in a patient’s death, an inquest will be called. As medical negligence is such a complex subject matter it is important that a specialist lawyer is present at the inquest to represent the interests of the patient and family. They can make sure the right questions are asked and evidence secured. The lawyer can also continue to represent the patient’s family in the event that civil proceedings follow the inquest verdict.
6. Gather and document your evidence
As soon as you suspect that the duty of care that the medical profession owe towards a patient has been breached, and you or a family member has suffered harm that could have been avoided, it is recommended that you document as much information as possible.
- Ask for a copy of your medical records
- Ensure that any adverse incident reports are included
- Prepare a list of appointment and treatment dates
- Note the names of all the doctors and nurses you saw or received treatment from
- Safeguard any correspondence (letters and emails) concerning your treatment and diagnosis
- If you had an operation ask who operated on you (often it can be a junior doctor and not the consultant)
Keep a dairy of how the treatment has affected everyday life and any costs incurred (for example, extra travel to and from hospital or unexpected loss of earnings).