The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s invaluable publicly funded healthcare system, established in 1948 after a major social reform following the Second World War. Their services are comprehensive, universal and free of charge for people living across the United Kingdom.
Most people have a good experience when visiting an NHS hospital, GP surgery or dental practice. The staff, doctors, nurses and specialists within the NHS usually hold a very high standard of care. But unfortunately, sometimes, they fall below the medical standard expected, causing patients avoidable and unnecessary harm.
If a healthcare provider fails to take all reasonable actions to keep their patients safe and healthy, this might be regarded as medical negligence. Common examples include misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, prescribing the wrong medication, surgical errors or careless treatment.
Medical negligence could cause an injury to the patient or worsen a condition. Aside from physical pain, suffering and psychological distress, this might also cause an individual to incur unnecessary financial losses.
If you or someone you love received substandard care from an NHS professional, you might be entitled to make an NHS negligence claim. The first step towards claiming compensation is contacting an experienced medical negligence solicitor. They will let you know if you have a valid claim against the NHS and help you gather all the necessary evidence to build a strong case.
Can I make an NHS negligence claim?
If your condition doesn’t improve or gets worse after visiting an NHS professional, you might want an explanation and even think about making a claim. But not every mistake a doctor might make is considered medical negligence.
To be eligible to make an NHS medical negligence claim, you must be able to answer yes to the following questions:
- Was the care you received below the medical standard of care accepted in the field?
- Did you suffer some kind of injury or illness as a result?
- Did the injury or illness cause you significant personal and financial loss?
- Were you treated or became aware of the injury in the last three years?
Before you decide to make a claim, you might consider making a complaint about the NHS service provider. You can usually complain within 12 months after an incident or after you become aware of an injury.
Your complaint will be investigated, and you should receive a written response within six months. This can help you better understand why your injury occurred and what could be done to rectify it.
If you are unsatisfied with the response, you should contact a solicitor and get legal advice about how to proceed next. You can also file a complaint after starting legal proceedings to help your solicitor understand more about the circumstances of your injury.
After hearing about your injury and how you think it occurred, your solicitor will investigate the case and decide if you have a valid claim. If your NHS negligence claim seems solid, they will offer you a no win no fee agreement, so you can ask for compensation without taking any financial risks.
What is classed as NHS negligence?
The NHS Constitution states that their services are high-quality, safe and effective, and their employees hold the highest levels of skill and knowledge. The NHS care should be patient-focused, aiming to support each individual in promoting and managing their health.
You have the right to be treated with respect and dignity and be protected from neglect and degrading care and treatment. You should receive information about your treatment options, risks and benefits and the chance to make an informed decision whether to accept or refuse treatment.
Any avoidable injury or worsening or a condition due to a breach of duty of an NHS professional that causes damage to a patient is considered medical negligence. Examples include:
- Failure to interpret laboratory results and imaging tests
- Delayed diagnosis of cancer
- Contracting a hospital infection
- Failure to provide proper follow-up recommendations
- Medication administration errors
- Conducting a procedure without the patient’s informed consent
- Failing to refer patients to specialists
- Not using sterile instruments
- Damaging organs, nerves or tissues during surgery
- Injuries during birth causing cerebral palsy
- The extraction of a wrong tooth
- Misdiagnosing a blood clot
The list above is by no means exhaustive. The negligent care of any healthcare professional (a GP, consultant, physiotherapist, dentist, nurse, laboratory worker, mental health specialist or a member of the ambulance service) could cause you an injury.
It is not, however, considered medical malpractice if:
- You do not respond to the treatment provided when the doctor acted with reasonable care and skill. Some conditions may worsen even with proper care.
- You suffer from an untreatable condition with an unavoidable outcome.
- You suffer an adverse or poor outcome even when the doctor follows the standard procedure.
- Your healthcare provider showed poor manners or acted rudely.
If you believe that your healthcare provider negligently caused you an injury, you should seek legal advice. Your solicitor will look into your medical records and determine if you have a possible negligence claim with the help of a medicolegal expert.
What are the most common types of NHS medical negligence?
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the NHS used to deal with an average of 1.5 million interactions with patients every day. In 2016/2017, there were 16.3 million hospital admissions and 23.4 million attendances to A&E departments. Over 2 million diagnostic tests were undertaken just in November 2019.
The NHS has been declared the world’s best healthcare system by the Commonwealth Fund. Nonetheless, dealing with such a high number of individuals each day, it is inevitable that complications will sometimes arise.
When an avoidable error occurs and ends up impacting a patient’s life, an NHS medical negligence claim can help compensate for the pain and suffering and support their recovery.
Medical negligence from the NHS usually involves:
Failing to diagnose a condition or giving a delayed diagnosis may lead to unnecessary suffering. If a condition is not treated in time, your symptoms could worsen and cause permanent damage. Research shows that as many as one in six patients treated by a GP or in NHS hospitals get misdiagnosed.
Unfortunately, sometimes cancer gets diagnosed at advanced stages. Early treatment would often give a better prognosis and the need for less aggressive treatments. Misdiagnosis of diabetes or infections can sometimes lead to the tragic loss of a limb.
The vast majority of surgical interventions in the UK are highly successful. However, negligent surgery occasionally occurs, causing damage to nerves, tissues and organs or leading to infections and other surgical complications.
Some surgical errors are so severe that they are labelled as Never Events. These include operating on the wrong patient or body part, foreign objects left in the body, mismatched blood transfusions and even death during surgery.
According to the NHS, between 1 April and 31 December 2021, there were 314 severe incidents labelled as a Never Event in public healthcare, some of which involved wrong-site surgery and retained foreign objects.
Prescription and medication errors
Taking the wrong medication or an incorrect dosage can have severe consequences, including brain damage, digestive problems, allergic reactions and even death. Common errors include prescribing the wrong medication or an incorrect dosage amount, prescribing medicines that shouldn’t be mixed together or prescribing a drug the patient is allergic to.
Negligent medical advice
Medical professionals have the duty to inform you of the risks and complications of a procedure and present you with an alternative treatment when available. If you were not given the chance to make an informed decision and something goes wrong, you might be entitled to make an NHS medical negligence claim.
Pregnancy and birth injuries
There were 681,560 live births in the UK in 2020, a decline of over 31,000 births in the previous year. The majority of them go without any problems, but medical negligence during pregnancy or labour can lead to lifelong trauma.
The use of excessive force when using the forceps to deliver the baby can cause fractures and brain damage, with catastrophic consequences. Failure to diagnose pre-eclampsia can result in the death of both the mother and child; failure to diagnose gestational diabetes can have severe repercussions, including stillbirth.
Dental and cosmetic negligence
With dental and cosmetic procedures becoming more popular in the last decade, the number of NHS negligence claims in these fields also increased. Misdiagnosis can lead to periodontal disease and jaw infections that could cause severe complications like heart and respiratory disease. This could give valid grounds to make a dental negligence claim.
Many people turn to cosmetic surgery to improve their physical appearance. As one of the least regulated medical fields, it brings numerous complaints following a cosmetic intervention.
Unfortunately, some procedural errors can cause life-changing injuries like permanent thick scars, loss of eyesight and irreversible injury to nerves or other underlying tissues.
If the negligent care of an NHS professional caused you or a loved one to suffer any type of injury, you might be entitled to make an NHS negligence claim.
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410. They can let you know if you may be eligible to make a claim and answer any questions you may have.
How do I make a compensation claim against the NHS?
If you decide to make a claim against the NHS for negligence, you should contact a medical negligence solicitor. If they believe you have a valid claim with a fair chance of success, they will offer you a no win no fee agreement and will guide you through every step of the claiming process.
Medical negligence claims are complex, and you will need strong evidence to prove a breach of duty. Your medical records, together with an independent medical assessment by a specialist, are fundamental to assessing the extent of your injuries and any long-term or permanent damage.
There are a few essential steps that need to be taken before and during a claim against the NHS for negligence, which include:
- Getting a diagnosis of your condition. When you realise that something went wrong, causing a worsening of an illness or a new injury, you should get things checked out by a professional.
- You may wish to make a complaint about the outcome of your treatment. Although this is not necessary for claiming compensation, it could help shine some light on your situation.
- If you suspect you suffered medical negligence, you should contact a professional medical negligence solicitor. They will give you a free consultation to ask for details about your injury and what you think happened.
- If your solicitor believes you have a valid NHS medical negligence claim, they will start an investigation. They will gather all the relevant evidence like medical records, photographs, witness statements, an expert medical report and relevant financial expenses to assess all the losses you suffered.
- When your claim is ready, your solicitor will submit it to NHS Resolution, the insurance company that settles all medical claims against the NHS. Your allegations will be submitted in a letter of claim, and the defendant has four months to produce a response.
- If the other side accepts liability, you can start negotiating for a suitable compensation award.
- If the defendant accepts liability and agrees on a compensation amount, you will reach a settlement. The other party will usually make the payment within four weeks, and your solicitor will deduct their success fee.
- If the other side denies liability or you can’t agree on compensation, your solicitor will issue court proceedings. You will have to argue your case before a judge, who will assess liability and decide on a suitable compensation award.
Based on NHS Resolution reports, of the 15,674 NHS negligence claims they settled in 2020/21, only 0.3% reached trial. So, in most cases, an out of court settlement is negotiated without the need to go to court.
How long does an NHS negligence claim take?
The time it might take for your claim to settle depends on many factors, with the complexity of your injuries and the estimated value of the compensation award being amongst the most decisive.
All claims against the NHS are facilitated by NHS Resolution, an insurance company set up by the government to handle medical claims against NHS providers.
Between 2013 and 2018, they settled a number of 27,416 NHS medical negligence claims. The time required to negotiate each claim increased according to the compensation value:
- An average of 725 days for 16,443 claims valued between £1- £25,000
- An average of 940 days for 4,031 claims valued between £25,000 – £50,000
- An average of 1,075 days for 2,776 claims valued between £50,000 – £100,000
- An average of 1,231 days for 2,085 claims valued between £100,000 – £250,000
- An average of 1,434 days for 857 claims valued between £250,000 – £500,000
- An average of 1,598 days for 501 claims valued between £500,000 – £1M
- An average of 1,848 days for 723 claims valued at over £1M
It is not easy to say how much your claim will be worth and how fast it might settle before having a comprehensive understanding of your injuries, financial losses and the future damages you might incur.
To sum it up, how long it might take for your NHS negligence claim to settle depends on:
- The type and severity of your injury and whether you suffered multiple injuries
- The circumstances of your injury
- How long it might take to gather all the necessary evidence
- Whether the defendant admits liability
- The estimated value of your claim
- Whether you will have to go to court
After gaining a comprehensive understanding of your case, your solicitor could give you a rough estimate of how long it might take to receive compensation.
How much compensation can I claim for NHS medical negligence?
NHS medical negligence injuries can impact your life in many ways, physically, emotionally and financially. Your solicitor will consider all the ways in which your injury affected you and calculate a suitable compensation award for your damages.
Depending on the nature of your claim and the consequences of your injury, you can ask for compensation for:
Special damages that include all financial losses you incurred due to the negligent treatment, such as:
- Lost wages, both present and future losses
- Medical treatment costs
- Physiotherapy and counselling
- Costs of care and private treatment
- Travel expenses
- Costs of adaptations to your home or vehicle
General damages awarded for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, including:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Psychological and emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of a unique career and professional prospects
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Reduced quality of life
- Loss of companionship in wrongful death cases
The compensation for special damages is calculated by summing up all the reasonable losses you suffered and you can account for. Compensation for general damages is not so straightforward.
Your solicitor or a judge will take into account the nature and extent of your injury and the prognosis for the resolution of the pain and suffering it caused you. They will use the Judicial College guidelines and refer to previous awards in similar cases. You might get:
- £60,000 to £100,000 for severe injuries to internal organs
- £31,950 to £95,850 for failure to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy leading to infertility
- £860 to £3,710 for a mild allergic reaction to the wrong medication
- £8,950 to £18,020 for a moderately severe reaction to medication that might require hospitalisation
- £36,060 to £49,270 for severe reactions to wrong medication
- £61,710 to £122,860 for severe neck injuries
- £4,380 for mental anguish
- £12,000 to £300,000 for wrongful death
- £1,020 to £1600 for minor damage to teeth
- £16,860 to £91,350 for severe scarring and disfigurement
- £39,390 to £65,710 for severe foot injuries
- £224,800 – £322,060 for very severe brain damage, leaving the victim totally dependent on others
Your solicitor might be able to give you a fair estimate of your compensation prospects at the beginning of your NHS negligence claim but will know for sure only after a comprehensive investigation.
Is there a time limit for claiming medical negligence against the NHS?
If you suffered an injury or your condition got worse after receiving NHS treatment, you might consider contacting a solicitor to start an NHS medical negligence claim. It is advised you do this as soon as possible, while the details are still fresh.
It might take a considerable amount of time for your solicitor to procure all your medical records, an independent expert opinion and other relevant evidence. Many solicitors will be reluctant to take on a medical negligence claim with less than a year left until the claim limitation date.
According to the Limitation Act 1980 (LA 1980), the time limit to start a personal injury claim is usually three years from when the injury occurred or when you became aware of an injury (the date of knowledge).
If you don’t start legal proceedings within the limitation period, your case will become statute-barred, and it will no longer be possible to claim compensation. In rare situations, the court may override the limitation date if there is an exceptional reason for a delay.
There are some exceptions to the three-year limitation date:
Medical negligence claims involving children
A parent, legal guardian or another litigation friend can make an NHS negligence claim on behalf of a child at any time before their 18th birthday. Afterwards, the victim has another three years to start a claim as an adult.
Wrongful death cases
In the case of a fatal injury or illness, a close family member has three years from the date of death to claim compensation. If the cause of death is discovered at a later time, they will have three years to start a claim from the date of knowledge.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005
There is no time limit for a litigation friend to claim compensation on behalf of an adult who lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings. A person may lack capacity due to:
- high levels of stress, such as if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- severe sleep deprivation
- an intellectual disability such as Down syndrome or autism
- a severe mental disorder such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression
- a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease
- being in a coma
- having suffered a traumatic brain injury or a stoke
If the person regains their intellectual ability, they will have three years to start a claim against the NHS for negligence.
A quick and free consultation with a legal adviser can let you know what limitation date might apply to your circumstances and if you still have time to make an NHS negligence claim. Call 0800 678 1410 or enter your details into our online claim form to speak to a solicitor.
Can NHS negligence claims be made using no win no fee?
If the negligence of an NHS professional caused you an injury or the worsening of your condition, you might feel very distressed, concerned and uncertain about what to do next.
Claiming against the NHS could help you receive the compensation you deserve for your pain, suffering and any financial losses. However, you might be worried about taking a financial risk and investing a lot of time and effort into claiming, without the certainty you will win the case.
Fortunately, most NHS negligence claims can be settled on a no win no fee basis. A solicitor will offer you a free initial consultation to understand the circumstances of your injury and the damages you suffered as a result.
Medical negligence claims can be very complex and demanding, so you might be asked to pay an initial fixed fee so your solicitor can investigate your case in detail. If they consider you have a strong negligence claim, they will offer you a no win no fee claim (also known as a conditional fee agreement), and you won’t have to pay anything else if you don’t receive compensation.
In no win no fee cases, solicitors usually take out an After the Event insurance policy on the claimant’s behalf. If their claim turns out to be unsuccessful, the insurance provides coverage for all the legal charges, and you won’t have to pay anything.
If you win the claim against the NHS, the defendant will cover most of the legal expenses incurred during the claiming process. You will only have to pay the cost of the ATE insurance, some basic legal fees and a success fee to cover the solicitor’s services.
The success fee cannot exceed 25% of the compensation you receive for general damages and past financial losses, and you will agree upon it at the beginning of the claim.
A no win no fee NHS negligence claim involves no upfront fees and hidden charges, and you don’t have to pay anything if your case is unsuccessful. This makes it the preferred way of funding a personal injury claim.
Who pays the compensation when claiming against the NHS?
In a medical negligence claim, it’s never the healthcare professional or the hospital that pays the compensation. Claims against the NHS are handled by their own special insurer, called NHS Resolution.
NHS Resolution is a body of the Department of Health and Social Care that manages claims against the NHS for negligence. The money paid out to victims of NHS medical negligence comes from the premiums paid by every NHS Trust.
Each NHS Trust in the UK is required to pay an annual premium to cover medical negligence compensation. You can rest assured that your settlement will not be taken away from the resources allocated for patient care and treatment.
The compensation for personal injuries is not designed to benefit people financially but to put them back in the position they would’ve been without suffering medical negligence.
Furthermore, an NHS negligence claim can highlight the lack of suitable medical care you received and help make better changes in the department where you were treated. This will help improve safety and reduce future NHS negligence claims. You should not feel selfish or unethical for exercising your right to compensation.
Do medical negligence claims take money out of the NHS budget?
If you received substandard care by an NHS professional, making a medical negligence claim can help highlight problems in the care and treatment standards that are in place in the NHS. This will help other people to avoid getting injured the same way and help reduce the number of future NHS negligence claims.
Every NHS Trust is required to pay an annual premium to the NHS Resolution insurance company, whether they must defend a negligence claim or not. The system works just in the same way as paying a car insurance premium.
The money paid out as compensation to victims of medical negligence will come out from the insurance company and not the NHS budget for citizen care.
If you feel you may have a valid claim for compensation, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back to receive a free consultation with a legal adviser. They will let you know if you could make an NHS negligence claim and answer any questions you might have.