The NHS has been making more headlines in recent years, as a combination of government-side underfunding and NHS-side failures in provision of care have created a perfect storm for the service. It remains the most important institution in the UK, and one of the most popular pieces of infrastructure to the population – but, unavoidably, the strain it is under is resulting in poor outcomes for patients. This includes a rise in medical negligence claims against the NHS. But what constitutes medical negligence, exactly?
What is Medical Negligence?
First, it would be helpful to define medical negligence as a term. It is one seen frequently in advertisements and news reports, but not something that the average citizen understands unless they are unfortunate enough to be required to.
Medical negligence, in brief, is the failure of a licensed medical professional, institution or establishment to provide proper and adequate healthcare to a given patient. This failure can take many forms, but is essentially predicated on a failure in duty of care – leading to the worsening of a condition, or development of a new one.
Medical negligence is litigated in civil courts, with medical negligence claims filed by patients in hopes of receiving compensation for their situation. This compensation would encompass literal costs – such as lost wages from an inability to work, or costs incurred by expenditure on new accessibility equipment in the event of a disability – as well as emotional costs caused by the damages resulting from the negligence.
How Might Medical Negligence Occur?
Medical events and treatment programmes are necessarily individual to a patient; however, there are clear patterns of potential negligence, and four or five key types that describe the vast majority of cases that succeed with settlement or awarded damages. One of the more common types is misdiagnosis, wherein a doctor or GP fails to correctly diagnose a condition. This could lead to a degeneration of health, or complications further down the line – particularly if it is a cancer that is missed or misdiagnosed.
Surgical negligence is a much less common form of negligence, describing a failure of care during surgery. An unauthorised incision may be made, damaging the body unnecessarily; a foreign object may be left in the surgical cavity; in some cases, the surgeon may operate on the wrong part of the body entirely.
Proving Medical Negligence
Proving medical negligence is not as simple a task as it may initially seem. While there may be a clear path between a decision or action taken by a doctor and a patient’s condition, there are still some essential steps that need to be ascertained in order to build a successful case.
First, the practitioner’s duty of care over the patient must be established. Then, it must be proven that the practitioner was derelict in providing that care. Next, and most importantly, the patient’s condition must be directly attributed to that dereliction.