What is Medical Negligence?

Charlotte Miller


Experiencing medical negligence can be a deeply distressing and damaging event, affecting both your health and your life. Whether it’s through seeking advice from a doctor or receiving emergency treatment in a hospital, you rightfully expect that the care you receive is safe and does not lead to unintended harm. When this expectation isn’t met, the path to compensation through a clinical negligence claim can seem daunting, especially for those unfamiliar with the legal process.

This guide aims to demystify the complexities surrounding medical negligence, providing clear insights into your rights and the steps involved in making a claim.

What Is The Definition Of Medical Negligence?

Medical (or clinical) negligence is said to have occurred when a healthcare professional – such as a doctor, nurse or midwife  – provides substandard care to a patient that results in injury or harm.

To legally establish that medical negligence has occurred, it must be proven that the healthcare professional owed a duty of care to the patient, breached that duty of care, and that this breach resulted in harm or injury to the patient. This could either be because negligent treatment resulted in the patient sustaining a new injury, or because an existing condition was made worse.

Medical negligence can vary significantly in seriousness, with some involving life-changing injuries or permanent damage to the patient’s health. Tragically, it can also result in a person’s death.

When this happens, the families affected rely on medical negligence solicitors to determine who is at fault, and what kind of compensation they might be entitled to receive.

What Are Common Examples Of Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence can manifest in various forms, each with its own set of consequences and implications for patients. Here are some common examples that highlight the wide range of situations where medical negligence can occur:

  • Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis: this occurs when a healthcare professional fails to diagnose a condition correctly or in a timely manner, leading to delayed treatment or incorrect treatment.
  • Surgical errors: this encompasses a range of mistakes, from operating on the wrong body part to leaving surgical instruments inside the patient’s body, to providing a poor standard of surgery
  • Medication errors: these involve administering the wrong medication, incorrect dosages, or failing to consider a patient’s medical history and potential interactions with other medications, potentially resulting in adverse reactions and harm.
  • Birth injuries: these result from negligence during pregnancy, labour or delivery, and may affect both the mother and the child, often leading to lifelong implications.
  • Failure to obtain informed consent: when healthcare providers neglect to secure informed consent from patients before administering treatment or procedures, or fail to provide sufficient information for patients to make informed decisions about their treatment.
  • Failure to monitor: this happens due to inadequate monitoring of patients during and after medical procedures, which can lead to delayed detection and treatment of complications.
  • Lack of follow-up: this occurs when healthcare providers neglect to provide proper follow-up care after medical procedures, potentially allowing complications to go unnoticed and untreated.

These are just a few examples of the varied circumstances in which medical negligence can occur. Each case will be unique, and the specific circumstances will determine the nature and extent of the negligence.

How Can Medical Negligence Be Proven?

To establish a case of medical negligence, the following key elements must be demonstrated:

  • Duty of care: it must be established that the healthcare professional owed a duty of care to the patient. This is typically straightforward in a patient-provider relationship, as the duty of care is inherent.
  • Breach of duty: to prove medical negligence, it is necessary to provide evidence that the healthcare professional breached their duty of care by providing substandard treatment or care. This often involves expert medical opinions and a thorough analysis of the specific circumstances.
  • Direct harm: it must be demonstrated that the breach of duty resulted in direct harm or injury to the patient. This connection between the substandard care and the harm suffered is a critical component of proving negligence.
  • Quantifiable damage: in addition to direct harm, it is essential to show that the injury or harm suffered resulted in quantifiable damage. This can include physical injury, psychological harm and financial loss.

The process of proving medical negligence typically involves a comprehensive review of medical records, expert testimony from healthcare professionals, and legal analysis. Expert medical negligence solicitors play a vital role in helping patients assemble the necessary evidence and build a strong case.

What Are The Benefits Of Making A Medical Negligence Claim?

Initiating a medical negligence claim offers several valuable advantages to patients and families who have endured substandard medical care. While no amount of compensation can completely alleviate the pain and suffering caused by medical negligence, pursuing a claim can lead to a number of positive outcomes:

  • Financial compensation: a successful medical negligence claim can provide financial support to help offset the pain, suffering and loss of quality of life experienced due to negligent treatment. This compensation can also cover financial losses, such as lost earnings or additional medical expenses, care or specialist housing needed as a result of the negligence.
  • Access to rehabilitation and support: compensation can grant access to crucial rehabilitation services. These services may include specialist care, physiotherapy, counselling, occupational therapy, or other treatments aimed at aiding the patient’s recovery and enhancing their quality of life.
  • Accountability: pursuing a claim holds the healthcare provider accountable for their actions. This accountability ensures that lessons are learned from the incident, and steps are taken to prevent similar distressing experiences for future patients. It contributes to improving overall healthcare standards and patient safety.
  • Closure: for many patients and their families, making a claim allows them to move forward with their lives, focusing on recovery and healing.

It is important to acknowledge that medical care in this country is generally good. However, when medical negligence does happen, its impact can be very serious, leaving families grappling with unforeseen challenges and setbacks. As such, understanding the laws and processes surrounding medical negligence is vital, and can help you to protect your rights and future wellbeing if you ever find yourself in this position.