While instances of medical negligence and malpractice may be relatively unusual in the UK, there has been a sharp increase in claims over the course of the last 15 years or so.
More specifically, the NHS was subject to 5,426 such claims in the period 2006/07, while this number increased by 133% to 12,629 in 2020/21.
This hike has something to do with the rise of no win, no fee representation, which has made medical malpractice claims more accessible. But in what instances can you sue a hospital for medical malpractice successfully?
Firstly – Is a Doctor Always a Hospital Employee?
In the event of a surgical mistake or clear case of medical malpractice, you may find that the doctor or practitioner in question isn’t a direct employee of the hospital.
This is because many doctors now work as independent contractors, enabling them to sell their services as freelancers to a number of different healthcare outlets.
However, the term ‘hospital employee’ is quite nebulous from the perspective of medical negligence, as it refers to any individual who is employed by a hospital and whose services are compensated by the relevant trust. Similarly, any doctor whose remuneration is reflected on the payroll records of a hospital is considered as an employee, with the relevant healthcare trust therefore responsible for any subsequent mistakes or instances of malpractice.
This also means that there’s an agreement in place with the hospital to use the facilities, so you can potentially pursue a claim against a hospital regardless of the employment status of the individual doctor who treats you.
How Long Do I Have to Sue a Hospital?
There’s also a time limit to keep in mind when considering pursuing a medical malpractice or negligence claim.
More specifically, you’ll have three years from the date the negligence occurred to bring a claim against the hospital trust, or three years from the date you became aware of it.
The latter point often creates a point of confusion, as the impact of negligence may not become immediately apparent (especially in the case of prescription errors or missed diagnosis).
In this case, it can be much harder to prove that any subsequent conditions or ailments are the result of the doctor’s error. In fact, this requires detailed documentation and a recorded timeline of your journey as a patient, so that a link between a practitioner’s error and your conditions can be demonstrated through litigation.
Should I Hire a Legal Expert to Help with My Claim?
The question that remains, of course, is should you hire a legal expert to help you pursue your claim?
The short answer is yes, and there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, you can now access no win, no fee representation, which means that you won’t pay a penny if your claim is unsuccessful (and around 25% of your settlement if you do win compensation).
Secondly, a lawyer with knowledge of healthcare and malpractice should be able to help you build your case in a time-effective manner, by helping with the collation of evidence and collecting documentation to help demonstrate your claim.
At the same time, they can help to secure an out-of-court settlement and negotiate a viable compensation payout to help cover medical costs or any loss of earnings.