So on today’s menu the starter is ‘Cuts’. No not best cuts of meat, but cuts in the infrastructure of our society. The Government in their wisdom now want to cut legal aid for all medical negligence cases. It will have far-reaching effects on an area of litigation where legal aid is most needed.
So you are treated by a doctor or surgeon and he does it wrong. You have suffered loss, maybe lost your job through disability caused directly by negligence. Well, you could argue that’s just tough, but if you want to claim for your losses and fight a big corporation like the NHS Litigation Authority it will cost you money. You will have to pay the solicitor and that is big money in today’s legal system. You have to pay for medical reports – and no one works for nothing. No Government support. Most people wouldn’t consider it, since the reason they want to launch a case is penury in the first place. Wealthy people might well be able to finance a case, but most can’t. To say that is unjust is an understatement. It interferes with access to justice for a part of the population who need support the most.
So what should you do if you are in that position?
Some solicitors will take a clear-cut case on a no win / no fee basis but it has to be strikingly obvious they will win.
It is possible to take out insurance to cover your losses if you are unsuccessful. Trouble is you will have to pay the premiums – Insurers don’t gamble after all.
There are solicitors out there who will give an initial free consultation to look at your case, look out for them.
Another source of advice is AVMA (look it up on Google) they give advice and can help find a lawyer and they are not charlatans, nor do they cream huge sums of money from the Claimant.
Another tack is if you belong to a union. Your union may take on the case and finance it but let’s face it; if you don’t have a union you can’t have that help.
The fly in the ointment however, is that the patient’s perception of what went wrong is never objective. Some have an operation and get complications. That isn’t negligent usually. Negligence is when the doctor/surgeon does something which no other reasonable body of opinion would have supported. There are times when negligence has occurred but the case folds because one can’t demonstrate any measurable harm having been done. Exposure to risk (e.g. missing a fracture, or making the wrong diagnosis) isn’t a yardstick. It is possible to do something negligent and if it does no harm that can be proven in court, it results in the case fizzling out. Only a good lawyer can assess this. There are some very good lawyers out there too but like surgeons, they are not all good. Be careful whom you choose.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favour of complaints. A lot of hospitals have big posters inviting patients to complain – not praise. Encouraging that leads to so much time wastage, it drives all working doctors insane in the end. I had to write a letter on one patient’s complaint where she was furious because, when she asked for coffee from the tea lady, she got a response which I can only say seemed appropriate – it was mid-afternoon at the time, after all. That complaint required a nurse manager to enquire, a consultant to write a letter and a further letter from the Chief Executive of the Trust.
Bottom line – if you think you’ve been dealt with in a negligent fashion, take a step back and assess whether you have losses. Then seek advice from a reputable lawyer or your union. Don’t bother to ask for legal aid – they’ve taken it away!