Medical negligence is the most common reason for doctors to appear in court in relation to health and care law. In recent years, there has been a huge increase in the number of people trying to sue doctors on account of medical negligence. Many people associate the increase in cases with the growth in popularity of the ‘blame’ culture and the ‘compensation culture’, with many legal firms encouraging people to come forward if they think they may have been a victim of medical negligence. You only have to enter an online search, watch television or even walk down the street to see an advert for injury lawyers or be approached by medical compensation companies.
What is medical negligence?
Medical negligence occurs when healthcare is not as good as it should be – negligence can be accidental or deliberate. The vast majority of cases are accidental, however, on rare occasions, cases of deliberate negligence do occur.
Causes of medical negligence
From a doctor’s standpoint, there may be many possible causes of negligence but most cases are associated with minor mistakes, which are often caused by tiredness, human error and pressure; doctors are only human and all doctors will make mistakes at some point. Everyone makes mistakes but very few people have the huge responsibility that doctors have – if a waiter makes a mistake, for example, this will probably result in a very minor situation, but if a doctor makes a mistake it can mean the difference between life and death.
In some cases, gross negligence takes place and there is very little that can be done to defend this in health and care law. However, medical professionals are required to act very quickly in a variety of different situations and sometimes they encounter situations which they have very little experience of. Medical conditions are not always as they seem in text books and doctors must act quickly. Sometimes their actions turn out to be wrong, but at the time they thought they were doing their best.
In order to win a care and law negligence case, claimants must satisfy three main criteria:
- The doctor must have had a ‘duty to care’: this means that the patient was in the doctor’s care at the time. A doctor is not required to be a Good Samaritan all the time and if they are not on duty, they are not required to provide care. Of course, many do come to the rescue if they happen to come across somebody who has fallen ill or they see car crash, for example. Once the doctor stops and starts to treat a patient, they take on the ‘duty to care’. A GP is usually said to have a duty of care to patients in their geographical area.
- The doctor must have failed to deliver acceptable standards of care, in relation to laws set out by the state: This is a grey area and a subject of great debate amongst both medical and legal professionals. Many people associate the Bolam test with this point. This determines whether or not a professional has acted appropriately in a given situation.
- The doctor’s negligence caused the patient harm: If the doctor is found guilty of negligence, the patient is entitled to claim damages equal to their losses. If the patient contributed to negligence in any way, this will be taken into account and this may affect the compensation payment.