The public and the private healthcare system in the UK have grown at an exponential rate over the last 20 years or so. As more and more financial pressure is exerted on the NHS we have seen a greater demand for private healthcare. Unfortunately, not all medical procedures are successful and indeed many have resulted in compensation claims as a consequence of negligence.
We will now take a look at some of the more common medical negligence compensation claims and what actually constitutes negligence.
It is no myth that many people will only visit their dentist once the actual pain is greater than the fear of visiting their dentist. First of all, this is an industry that is heavily regulated and qualifications/experience is required in order to carry out procedures on patients. Unfortunately, not all treatment is successful and indeed we have come across many issues of dental negligence.
Some of the more common issues include:-
- Defective dental products
There have been many instances of defective dental products being used as a way to cut costs and maximise profits. In many cases, this can lead to extremely painful aftercare treatment and in some instances, we have seen additional medical conditions brought on by defective products.
- Careless work
When you bear in mind that dental treatment can lead to heavy bleeding and the use of instruments to penetrate the gum/teeth there is obviously a need to be careful. Careless work might not only result in additional pain, and potential infection, but can also lead to scars and life-changing injuries.
- Missed diagnosis
When a patient has an issue with their gums/teeth many dentists will carry out an x-ray to clarify the issue and see the wider picture. Unfortunately, there have been numerous occasions of missed diagnosis which have often been identified further down the line, causing more pain and suffering to the patient.
- Incorrect use of drugs/medication
It is commonplace for the dentist to use an array of drugs/medication to numb and cleanse both teeth and gums. New modern drugs/medication means that the duration of the numb feeling has been greatly reduced from years gone by. However, there are still occasions where incorrect dosages have been used or indeed medication used on patients who have taken an allergic reaction.
There are many other issues that arise as a consequence of dentistry negligence claims but these are some of the more common problems. All dentists should make you aware of what they are doing, potential risks and the expected end result. Over the years we have seen disfigurements and other life-changing injuries that have caused not only physical but also great mental anguish.
Childbirth compensation claims
The process of childbirth can be traumatic for both the mother and the child. It is therefore imperative that the best treatment is received and regular monitoring is carried out after a pregnancy is confirmed. It is fair to say that the UK has an extremely competent maternity system although unfortunately, accidents do occur. Official figures from 2018 confirmed there were more than 730,000 births in the UK although unfortunately there can be a number of issues. For example, the stillbirth rate in the UK was four per 1000 births and while it is difficult to get a figure of overall birth-related injuries, some estimates put this as high as seven per 1000 births.
Some of the more common baby related injuries include:-
- Head injuries
It is common knowledge that babies have what is known as “soft spots” situated around the top of the head where the skull bones have yet to fuse. Over forceful or incorrect use of forceps can lead to head injuries and in some circumstances long term brain damage.
- Oxygen deprivation
If a baby is deprived of oxygen during the birth this can lead to an array of life-changing and potentially life-threatening conditions. These might include impaired sight, brain damage, cerebral palsy and attention deficit disorder. Where negligence can be proven during the birth process, compensation awards can often run into the millions of pounds if long-term medical assistance will be required.
Some of the more common mother related injuries include:-
It is not uncommon for some mothers to require a caesarean birth whereby an incision is made in the abdominal wall and then through the wall of the uterus. There is a risk of excessive bleeding and infection and unfortunately, accidents/negligence can exacerbate these risks.
- Muscle/tissue tears
When you consider the actual process of giving birth, the pressure and stress on a mother’s body can be huge. This can often lead to muscle/tissue tears some of which can be avoided using various medical procedures. Over the years we have seen far too many instances of negligence which can lead to long-term disfiguration.
- High blood pressure
One of the more dangerous conditions associated with pregnant mothers is that of pre-eclampsia with the prominent symptoms being high blood pressure, protein in the urine as well as weight gain, swelling, headaches, and blurred vision. Misdiagnosed/missed diagnosis of pre-eclampsia can be potentially life-threatening for both mother and baby.
As you will appreciate, the pregnancy term let alone the birth carry an array of potential risks and careful monitoring is required. On occasion, we have seen situations where conditions have been misdiagnosed (or simply missed) and appointments have been cancelled due to funding shortages. The medical profession, whether private or public, has a duty of care to their patients and failing to deliver an acceptable standard of care can lead to claims of negligence and compensation.
Laser eye surgery claims
Since 1990 it is believed that in excess of 30 million laser eye surgery procedures have been carried out across the world. It is estimated that around 120,000 patients undertake this type of treatment in the UK each year. It is fair to say that successful laser eye surgery can be life-changing although unfortunately, not all treatment is successful. In the UK, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists recommends in-depth training for those carrying out laser eye surgery with strict regulations in place.
There is normally a degree of discomfort immediately after laser eye surgery (which is normal) but unfortunately, some patients experience long-term problems. These might include:-
- Eye infections
Some eye infections are fairly innocuous while others may be a consequence of an unsterile environment or unclean equipment. If untreated some eye infections can result in reduced long-term visibility and in some cases blindness.
- Corneal scarring
We have seen issues of corneal scarring, as a result of substandard procedures, which can often lead to blurred vision and in some cases total blindness. Unfortunately, this type of injury cannot be reversed resulting in long-term consequences for the patient.
- Damage to the eye wall
Damage to the eye, often described as excessive thinning of the eye wall, can lead to partial or complete loss of sight. In some cases, the damage may be at least partially repairable with corneal surgery but there is no guarantee.
- Glare when driving at night
In cases of relatively high corrective surgery, a patient can experience glares when driving at night time. Obviously these can be extremely dangerous when in charge of a vehicle and this condition can be difficult to reverse.
Those who have looked into laser eye surgery will be well aware of the potential risks which should be detailed prior to agreeing to any treatment. It is worth noting that while there are definitive risks with all cases of eye surgery, this does exempt medical practitioners/medical practices from legal action in cases of negligence. Therefore, if you believe that you have been injured or your sight has been impacted as a consequence of negligence, you may still be able to claim compensation for laser eye surgery negligence.
Claiming compensation for medical procedures
There is a very fine line between an accident/negligence when it comes to medical procedures. There will be occasions, such as laser eye surgery, where there can be no guarantee of success. In these scenarios, the risks must be explained in detail to patients before they agree to undertake any form of treatment. So, how do the courts differentiate between a competent procedure and a negligent one?
The result of court cases involving medical procedures will be heavily influenced by evidence from other unconnected medical professionals. The litmus test is simply, would a competent similarly qualified practitioner have undertaken the procedure to the same standard as those subject to a compensation claim? If the answer is yes, then it will be extremely difficult to prove negligence, if the answer is no, this would insinuate a substandard procedure and strengthen a claim for medical negligence.
The level of compensation awarded for negligent dental care, maternity services, and laser eye treatment can vary enormously. In many cases, we have seen compensation claims running into the millions of pounds for negligence resulting in birthing injuries for mother and/or child. This is because some of the injuries can leave the individual paralysed with long-term disabilities which may require around-the-clock medical care.
While many people feel uncomfortable seeking compensation from the medical profession, it is only by highlighting negligence that procedures will change, practitioners will be investigated and instances of substandard treatment will reduce.
There is no guarantee of a successful outcome with any form of medical treatment as there are always potential risks. It is up to the courts to rule on whether potentially negligent treatment was simply substandard or came within the boundaries of risks associated with the procedure. As we touched on above, there are many issues to consider such as sterile environments, clean equipment and whether a similarly qualified medical practitioner would have taken the same course of action.