What to do if you believe you or a family member has been the victim of hospital negligence
If you think that you or a member of your family has experienced medical negligence when being treated in a hospital, it is recommended to seek expert legal advice at the earliest opportunity. This will allow you to establish whether you are likely to have a valid claim and what action you need to take to give yourself the best chance of a successful claim.
By starting the claim process as soon as possible, you can make it easier to gather the necessary evidence for a strong case as your hospital negligence lawyer will be able to advise you on exactly what proof you need to sue a hospital for negligence. There is also usually a time limit for bringing medical negligence claims, so it can be risky to put off making a claim.
What counts as hospital negligence?
There are various failures of medical care that can occur in a hospital, many of which may be classed as hospital negligence, depending on the circumstances.
Typical issues that may qualify as hospital negligence in the UK include:
- Failure to examine a patient correctly
- Failure to correctly consider a patient’s medical history
- Failure to carry out appropriate diagnostic tests e.g. X-rays or blood tests
- Failure to correctly interpret test results
- Misdiagnosis or late diagnosis of a condition
- Failure to provide the correct treatment
- Failure to record or respond to a patient’s condition worsening
- Surgical errors
- Providing inadequate or inappropriate surgical aftercare
- Neglecting a patient while they were in hospital care
- Administrative errors that impact a patient’s care e.g. losing test results
Who can sue for hospital negligence?
In general, you can sue a hospital for negligence in the UK if:
- You have suffered an injury due to substandard care in a hospital
- A loved one has died due to negligent hospital treatment and you are their next of kin
- A loved one has suffered an injury due to hospital negligence, they are unable to take action themselves because they lack mental capacity (for example, because they have severe learning difficulties), and you are their next of kin
There are some other situations in which you may be able to bring a compensation claim against a negligent hospital. For example, if you are an Attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney for someone injured by hospital negligence.
If you are not sure whether you can bring a claim, it is always worth consulting an experienced hospital negligence lawyer at the earliest opportunity to check. We can provide a free initial consultation to the majority of our new clients to assess your situation and prospects for bringing a claim.
What can you claim hospital negligence compensation for?
You can generally claim for the injuries you have suffered as a result of your negligent hospital care, as well as for any other losses or costs associated with your injuries.
Things you can claim for include:
- Payment for any additional treatment required to deal with your injuries
- The cost of any extra non-medical care, equipment or adaptations you require to cope with the effects of your injuries
- Compensation for pain and suffering
- Compensation for psychological damage
- Money to replace any lost earnings as a result of your injuries
- Compensation for certain activities and hobbies you cannot carry out as a result of your injuries
How hospital negligence compensation claims work
There are various stages to making a hospital negligence compensation claim and it is essential to manage each of these stages correctly in order to achieve a positive outcome for your case.
Suing a hospital for negligence is a complex process. Although it is possible to make a claim by yourself, most people choose to instruct a specialist medical negligence solicitor as they will have the expertise to ensure you put together the strongest possible case and give you the best chance of getting a fair resolution.
Typically, a hospital negligence case will involve:
- Contacting the relevant hospital or NHS Trust to inform them of your intention to make a claim
- Filing a claim with the relevant court
- Obtaining the client’s medical records
- An independent medical assessment of the patient
- Mediation or negotiation with representatives of the hospital or NHS Trust to see if a settlement can be reached without going to court
- Attending a court hearing if an out-of-court settlement cannot be agreed
The overwhelming majority of hospital negligence cases are settled outside of court, which usually means that they can be resolved faster, with less expense and less stress for the client.
How long do you have to claim for hospital negligence?
The law sets out strict time limits for suing a hospital in the UK. In general, you have 3 years from the time you sustained an injury due to hospital negligence to make a claim, or 3 years from when you first realised you had sustained the injury.
For children who have suffered an injury, the 3-year time limit does not start until their 18th birthday, meaning they will usually have until they turn 21 to bring a claim.
If the patient is unable to manage their own affairs e.g. they lack mental capacity, are in a coma etc, then the 3-year time limit does not take effect until they regain capacity. However, in these cases their next of kin or another eligible person can start a hospital negligence claim on their behalf.
How long do hospital negligence claims take?
There is no definite time frame for a successful hospital negligence claim as exactly how long it will take to reach a conclusion depends entirely on the unique circumstances of the case. If the NHS Trust in question admits responsibility, it can allow the case to progress faster, but if they deny liability this is likely to mean it takes longer to reach a resolution.
It is not unusual for a case to take up to 2 years to resolve, although it can take less time or longer and this is not always easy to assess at the outset.
How to prove hospital negligence
If you or a loved one have suffered an injury during medical treatment, this does not automatically mean that the care given was negligent. In order to claim compensation for hospital negligence, it will be necessary to prove that:
- The level of care you/your relative received was below medically acceptable standards
- Your injury was a direct result of failings in the care you received
For example, if you were suffering from an illness that was misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed quickly enough, you would need to be able to demonstrate that the doctor who made the diagnosis should reasonably have been able to make the right diagnosis if they had taken appropriate action AND that making the right diagnosis sooner would have prevented your injury.
Proving negligence in hospital is likely to involve gathering various types of evidence, including medical records, independent medical examination and witness testimony.
Is it wrong to sue the NHS?
Some people feel guilty about the idea of suing the NHS, but the reality is that if you have been harmed by substandard care, you should not be expected to bear the financial cost of dealing with this. In many cases, people who suffer medical negligence in hospital treatment need to take extra time off work while they recover and may be left with lasting issues that require them to spend money to deal with, such as hiring carers or making adaptations to their home.
It is also worth bearing in mind that if there were failings at a hospital that lead to you receiving substandard care, this might not be an isolated incident. A patient suing a hospital for medical negligence can be the thing that triggers an NHS Trust to investigate problems in a particular hospital or department’s procedures, leading to improvements in the service offered and preventing other people from experiencing the same kind of clinical negligence in future.