A guide to medical negligence

All medical practitioners have a duty of care, which means that they must take precautions to ensure their patients’ safety while they are under their care.

If this fails to happen and a patient is let down then they should seek professional legal advice, as they may be able to make a claim for compensation. In this article, we will provide an overview of some of the key areas of medical negligence with an aim to understanding in which instances claims can be brought.

What is medical negligence?

Medical negligence, or clinical negligence as it is also known, is a legal term which relates to the process of claiming for financial compensation for injuries or losses suffered as a result of a medical professional’s actions or inactions which meant that a patient received a poor standard of care. The most common types of medical negligence involve birth related injuries, eye related claims, misdiagnosis, surgical mistakes, cosmetic surgery and dental negligence. We will now look at each of these in depth.

Birth related injuries

Birth injury is any damage sustained during the birthing process. Sometimes this can be brought about as the result of negligence and an unacceptable level of care by medical professionals and it may be related to either the baby or the mother. Birth injuries can range from minor bruises to more serious brain damage and even the death of a child.

Cerebral palsy is one example of a birth related injury. It is a neurological disorder which can affect body movement and co-ordination of muscles in its sufferers. For example, those diagnosed might suffer from reduced motor coordination - which might affect balance, speech and muscle development and could lead to further complications in later life such as learning difficulties and epilepsy.

Cerebral palsy is caused by injury to the brain during foetal development or infancy and most likely occurs due to a lack of oxygen. Cerebral palsy claims are particularly complex and it is important that they are handled by specialists who can offer expertise and support.

Another birth related injury can be from damage incurred to the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is a complex system of nerves that originates in the neck and shoulders and carries messages from the brain to muscles throughout the body. The symptoms of this kind of injury can range from stiff joints and pain to disability and paralysis.

Injury can occur during childbirth, for example if the baby becomes stuck behind the pubic bone and carers use what is deemed to be excessive force to free the baby. In this circumstance a better alternative might have been to pursue other forms of treatment such as an emergency caesarean.

Injuries can also be inflicted on the mother of the newborn child, for example by damaging the bladder or urethra and also haemorrhaging. Another example of this could be when medical staff fail to diagnose and monitor a condition such as pre-eclampsia.

Eye related claims

For people who suffer with poor vision, laser eye surgery can be of great benefit in helping to improve their sight and bringing freedom from uncomfortable glasses or contacts lens.

However, in some cases laser eye surgery may result in further damage to the patient’s eyes. Examples of this include dryness of the eyes, problems seeing at night, astigmatism (double-vision), scarring and tissue tears. If this happens then you may be eligible for compensation.

A cataract is another common problem which may require eye surgery. In the UK around 300,000 procedures are carried out to remove them each year. Cataracts develop in the eye and cause cloudiness which can make vision hazy and they commonly develop with age. Problems might occur with this type of surgery if the wrong type of lens is inserted or the surgeon fails in their technique. Although this is fairly uncommon, if complications arise then you may be entitled to make a claim.

Negligence can happen as a result of a medical professional’s failure to diagnose a problem too which could have devastating consequences for the patient. Glaucoma happens when the drainage canal in the eye becomes blocked and builds up with fluid which creates pressure on optic nerves and blood vessels. Early diagnosis is very important with Glaucoma as it can prevent further damage and even blindness; this is also true in the case of retinal detachments.

Misdiagnosis

When a patient visits medical services such as a doctor or a hospital they place their health and wellbeing in their hands, trusting their knowledge and expertise to deliver a correct diagnosis. However, sometimes mistakes are made and a patient can be wrongly diagnosed. This misdiagnosis can result in financial losses and sometimes injury. If your doctor has failed to fully investigate your illness then you may be eligible to make a claim.

Cancer misdiagnosis claims are common in the UK. Due to the nature of the illness it is important that is diagnosed early on as this will often increase the patients chances of recovery. Making an incorrect diagnosis could mean that more aggressive forms of treatment have to be pursued later on.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and women in the UK have a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with the disease. It is most common in women aged 50 and above, however it can also occur in younger women and in men. A misdiagnosis might occur if test results are misinterpreted or a lump is missed.

Ovarian cancer symptoms are more difficult to spot than other types of cancer and might be misdiagnosed because of this. Symptoms such as abdominal or pelvic pain, irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux might be diagnosed as something else and as such simple procedures that could identify the cancer, like pelvic exams and ultrasounds might not take place.

Cervical cancer screening is offered to all women between the ages of 25 and 49 every 3 years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and every 5 years for women between 50 and 64. However, despite this many women do not attend their screenings. Misdiagnosis may occur when there is a failure or a delay in the diagnosis.

90% of prostate cancers are treated successfully if they are diagnosed early. Guidelines recommend that men with symptoms that could be related to prostate cancer should be offered a blood test and a rectal examination. If this doesn’t happen and the patient is later diagnosed with cancer then they may have a case for claiming compensation.

Surgical mistakes

Many surgical procedures carry with them specific risks and need to be handled carefully by the surgeon. If harm has come to a patient as a result of poor technique, equipment or surgical error then they may be able to pursue a claim. Mistakes could take place during or after the surgery has taken place, for example, by damaging surrounding tissues or failing to provide correct aftercare to the patient. In this scenario it is important to take professional legal advice.

Cosmetic surgery

The cosmetic surgery market has boomed in the UK in recent years and many more doctors are now offering procedures than ever before. However, the cosmetic industry is not regulated to the same degree as other areas of health care and a rise in the availability has brought an increase in injuries sustained during or after surgery takes place. The consequences of these failed cosmetic procedures can be devastating both emotionally and physically to patients. If a patient believes negligence has played a part in their procedure and that they have a claim for compensation then they should seek professional legal advice.

Dental negligence

Many people have an unfounded fear of dentists as in most cases they do a great job. However occasionally they do fail to provide the level of care expected and in this scenario a dental negligence claim might be sought. There are a number of ways in which a claim could be sought. For example for missed diagnosis if a dentist fails to pick up on oral, gum or teeth problems, and indeed in some cases like cancer, spotting problems early on can increase chances of recovery so it is important that signs are picked up.

A dentist might also recommend and carry out a treatment which is not actually required or they might fail to provide proper care when carrying out their work, which in-turn leads to suffering on the patient’s part. An example of this could be by removing the wrong tooth, damaging nerves, or by failing to use sterile equipment for a procedure.

Seeking legal advice

Pursuing a claim for medical negligence is a complicated process and it is important that the solicitor you choose has experience and knowledge of this area of law. Here at Rollingsons our dedicated clinical negligence team will help to guide you through the complex legal process, working closely with you to achieve the best possible outcome.

To find out more about medical negligence click here, or call us on 0207 611 4848 to arrange a free and no obligation initial consultation.