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Practice Area Series: Clinical Negligence

Practice Area Series: Clinical Negligence

Clinical negligence is a dynamic and ever evolving area of law and practice. It combines knowledge about medicine, technological innovations, health care and legal principles. It also involves working with a diverse range of people, from young children to hospital directors. Your first interaction with this area of law will probably arise from your study of the law of tort although an increasing number of universities are offering elective modules in medical law.

About Clinical Negligence

Clinical negligence is the area of law that deals with the claim that a health care practitioner or health care institution has breached its duty of care to its patient and perhaps the patient’s family too in the course of events. This breach will have resulted in a loss or damage to the patient. This can cover a vast array of events such as a misdiagnosis or a delay in diagnosis, inadequately informing a patient about the risks of a procedure to the extent that their consent is invalidated, over-treating a patient to their detriment or issues surrounding mental health. The consequences of such a breach can have far reaching consequences for an individual or a family such as financial loss, emotional consequences and an impact on day to day activities.

When this occurs a patient may be seeking a variety of outcomes. They may be seeking damages in order to put them in the position they were in before the breach occurred. They might want that particular institution or individual to be held accountable and as an example to others of how things should not be done in order that others do not unnecessarily suffer from the same mistakes. They may simply want an apology or acknowledgement that the health care institution or professional breached the terms of their duty and this resulted in the loss they suffered.

In terms of practice, clinical negligence claims may take an exceptionally long time to reach resolution. This can be for any number of reasons, such as gathering the necessary paperwork, medical notes of the claimant and evidence to waiting to ascertain the extent of damage or loss suffered. Furthermore, clinical negligence cases may be resolved through mediation or conclude with a settlement rather than going to court and so the pathway taken and outcome achieved can be hard to determine at the outset.

This area also requires a high level of people skills, sensitivity and dedication. You may be dealing with a family that has endured what may have been an entirely avoidable death or disability which has altered their lives beyond recognition or robbed a young person of the opportunity to realise their full potential. You will also almost always be interacting with someone who has endured one of the worst ordeals of their life and this is where dedication, communication and understanding plays a key role.

It is also important to remember the role this area of law plays in society. The principal aim is to achieve a better, safer and more efficient health care system in the UK, uphold its reputation and allay fears of health service users.

Getting Into Clinical Negligence

There is no specific expertise required to get involved in clinical negligence practice. Some firms prefer for you to have shown some sort of interest during your studies but generally firms and chambers will understand that you are limited in what you can study at university. An increasing number of universities offer a postgraduate course in health care law or a variation of it. This can be a good way of understanding the intricacies of the practice in greater depth but of course postgraduate study is not for everyone and there are other ways to enhance your knowledge and awareness of issues in this area of law. Getting involved in charities such as Action Against Medical Accidents or experience of working or volunteering in the NHS system are also an excellent way to challenge yourself and initiate your involvement with this practice area.

Finally…

Although often challenging and demanding, clinical negligence can also be a very rewarding area of law to get involved in. Not only can you help people rebuild their lives and health care professionals redeem their confidence but you will also contribute to the improvement of health care services and policy decisions. On a personal level, you will pick up a wealth of knowledge about medical practice, technology and developments in this area. Given our changing attitudes to the health care profession, our expectations from it and the difficulties that resource scarcity presents, it remains an exciting, challenging and stimulating area to work in.

Top Clinical Negligence Law Firms (Claimant) According to the Legal 500
Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP, Irwin Mitchell LLP, Kingsley Napley LLP, Leigh Day

Top Clinical Negligence Law Firms (Defendant) According to the Legal 500
Capsticks Solicitors LLP, DAC Beachcroft LLP, Hempsons, Kennedys

Top Clinical Negligence Law Chambers According to the Legal 500
London Circuit: One Crown Office Row, 7 Bedford Row, Hailsham Chambers, Outer Temple Chambers, Serjeants’ Inn Chambers

The Regional Bar: No 5 Chambers, Ropewalk Chambers, Byrom Street Chambers, Pallant Chambers, 9 Park Place, Guildhall Chambers.

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