It is well established that medical negligence can lead to life-changing impacts for victims, but it is important to consider the effects on family members left to deal with the aftermath.
Beyond the emotional aspects, there are the legal and financial ramifications of clinical negligence.
And, when it comes to getting justice for their loved one, family members may struggle to find answers and find out precisely what went wrong.
Lives changed forever after serious birth injury
To understand the effect on loved ones of medical negligence, consider the case of a six-year-old boy, who was awarded £37m compensation by the NHS in October 2018. In this particular circumstance , the child had contracted the Herpes Simplex virus soon after birth in Watford General Hospital. However, this was not detected by medical staff until catastrophic damage had been caused to the brain, leaving him with lifelong vision, communication, cognitive, motor deficits, and behavioural issues. As a result of his medical problems, he will require 24-hour care for the remainder of his life; hence the level of the compensation awarded.
The compensation award made by the High Court reflected the considerable projected lifelong costs associated with the medical care, therapy, education, transport, and daily living of the child.
Understanding the impact on family members
While, in the above case, the child’s award will go a long way to alleviating the financial pressure placed on the family of the victim to provide the care he needs, the wider implications for caregivers and family members in such situations cannot be understated.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), research shows family members of those who are diagnosed with a serious injury or illness often contend with widely fluctuating emotions due to considerable uncertainty; something they refer to as “ambiguous loss”. The injured person may themselves suffer chronic physical, emotional and personality changes, resulting in the sense of “loss of self”. And as a result of these changes in behaviour and personality, the primary caregiver and the family may endure considerable uncertainty regarding how the family system will recover once the victim returns home.
Once the injured individual returns home, and the process of rehabilitation commences, families may then need to grapple with the practicalities of a long, protracted recovery and the resentment, frustration, and anger of the victim. This phase should not be underestimated and can lead to loss of well-being for caregivers, given the demands placed on them. The brain injury charity, Headway, state that close family members are likely to experience “high levels of anxiety and depression during the years following a brain injury. As time elapses, there is often a decrease in relatives' capacity for coping, particularly with emotional and behavioural problems”. They also advise that spouses tend to feel isolated and trapped in a state that is neither being “married nor single”. And children of parents affected by clinical negligence or any other form of personal injury can suffer greatly as they must grapple with the changes to their loved one and reduction in their own needs being met.
Seeking support for family members of clinical injury victims
It is essential for any family member of an individual affected by medical negligence to know that a wide array of support is available. Thankfully, the UK has support networks and charities available in most regions, who are able to provide guidance, advice, and an empathetic ear when it is most needed. The simple act of talking to someone who understands the real-life implications of serious injury or disease on family members can have a profound impact on the wellbeing of those affected by such circumstances. Just being able to express fear, doubt, anger, resentment, and any other emotions can make a considerable difference.
Seeking the guidance of a Solicitor specialising in clinical negligence claims can also bring considerable relief for the families of victims. Simply by knowing that the process of securing full compensation and seeking justice is in hand means that they can focus on the wellbeing of themselves and their family members. A Solicitor will assist you in seeking answers to questions including obtaining the victim's medical history, finding out precisely what went wrong, finding out what you weren’t told, and finding out if there have been mistakes and errors, or, in a small number of cases, a cover-up.
Where to start
Supporting a loved one who has suffered a serious injury due to medical negligence may be a long and difficult journey, but sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to start and making the first step. Family members sometimes feel overwhelmed and unsure of the best course of action to take, whether from a medical, emotional, financial, legal, or practical day to day perspective. If you are in anyway unsure how to proceed, a Solicitor specialising in clinical negligence cases will be able to explain your options and outline the resources available to you as a starting point. You can be assured from the outset, while you may not know the precise destination of your journey, there are plenty of resources, people, and organisations who will help you get there; always with your wellbeing and best interests in mind.
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