Partner Oliver Thorne looks at NHS negligence claims and the law
The National Health Service (NHS) is dear to our hearts, and we are all very fortunate in the UK to enjoy a high standard of medical care regardless of our individual circumstances. However, the NHS is a vast organisation and sadly medical mistakes inevitably occur. When they do, there is no room for sentimentality about the NHS. Victims of medical errors are entitled to seek compensation, and in 2021/22 just over 15,000 NHS medical negligence claims were made.
There is a popular misconception that because treatment is free under the NHS, patients cannot claim compensation when things go wrong. However, NHS patients are entitled to receive an appropriate standard of medical care, and if an error is made that results in them suffering injury, then they are perfectly free to make a negligence claim.
NHS negligence claims can be made in respect of substandard treatment provided by all healthcare professionals employed by the NHS. This includes:
- Hospital doctors and consultants
- General Practitioners (GPs)
Claims are generally made against the NHS itself (via one of the healthcare trusts that run it) rather than against individual healthcare workers.
The NHS annual budget makes provision for NHS negligence claims and in the year 2021/22 NHS compensation payouts amounted to £2.4 billion.
For a negligence claim to be successful it is necessary to show that the standard of medical care fell below that which a patient can reasonably expect to receive. The most common types of error or negligence include:
- Surgical mistakes
- Wrong diagnosis
- Late diagnosis
- Incorrect drugs and medication
- Failure to obtain consent or explain the risks of treatment
- Dental errors
- Childbirth and maternity errors
Before making an NHS negligence claim patients often raise a complaint, though this isn’t compulsory, and our lawyers will be happy to offer free guidance on this issue.
People are frequently concerned about the cost of making a negligence claim. This is understandable, particularly as the government abolished Legal Aid for most NHS negligence claims a decade ago. However, patients should not be alarmed as we are able to work on a No Win, No Fee basis. We will be happy to explain to you exactly how No Win, No Fee funding works, but the basic principle is that if you do not win your case, you will not have to pay any legal costs. Your financial situation should not therefore prevent you from seeking access to justice.