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Medical Negligence

Can you sue the NHS? Understanding Your Legal Rights

Written by Claire Evans, Clinical Negligence Solicitor


June 19, 2024

Knowing your legal rights and understanding the procedures for claiming compensation due to NHS negligence is crucial. If you’ve suffered harm due to substandard care, it’s essential to be informed about your rights and the process for making a claim. This comprehensive guide aims to explain the claims process, outline your legal rights, and highlight the importance of obtaining fair compensation. 


How often do people sue the NHS? 


NHS negligence claims are more common than you might think. In recent years, the NHS has faced thousands of claims annually. For instance, for the period 2022 -2023, NHS Resolution reported receiving 13,511 new claims and potential claims for clinical negligence. Common reasons for these claims include misdiagnosis, surgical errors, and inadequate care. 


What is NHS medical negligence? 


NHS medical negligence occurs when the care provided by healthcare professionals falls below the standards set by the NHS Constitution, resulting in harm to the patient. The NHS Constitution outlines the principles and values that guide the NHS, including delivering high-quality care and ensuring patient safety. Medical negligence differs from general medical errors in that it involves a breach of duty of care that directly causes harm. Healthcare professionals are expected to provide a standard of care that a competent professional in the same field would provide. 


Types of NHS medical negligence claims 


There are various types of NHS negligence claims, including: 


Misdiagnosis: Failure to diagnose a condition correctly, leading to incorrect or delayed treatment. 

Birth Injury claims: Avoidable injuries that have been suffer by mother and/or baby during pregnancy and birth. 

Cancer negligence claims: Failure to treat or diagnose cancer correctly. 

Surgical errors: Mistakes made during surgery, such as operating on the wrong site or leaving surgical instruments inside the patient. 

Medication errors: Prescribing the wrong medication or incorrect dosage, causing harm to the patient. 


When can you sue the NHS? 


You can sue the NHS within a standard three-year period from the date of injury or the date you became aware of the injury. Exceptions to this rule include cases involving children, where the three-year period starts from their 18th birthday, and individuals lacking mental capacity, where the time limit does not apply until capacity is regained. 


How long does it take to sue the NHS? 


Our team at Fletchers Solicitors strives to ensure your claim is settled as soon as possible so you can move on from your injuries. However, there is no definitive answer on how long a claim is going to take, this can depend on the complexity of the claim. 


The typical timeline of pursuing an NHS negligence claim includes: 


Initial Enquiry: Upon submitting your enquiry, our specialists will ask about your experience and its effects on you, allowing us to gain a comprehensive understanding of your situation. 


Case Evaluation: Our medical negligence experts will assess your case to determine the merits of the claim. Leveraging our expertise, we offer immediate advice based on our evaluation. 


Obtaining: If your case meets the necessary criteria, our team will request your medical records from your GP and hospital. Furthermore, we will begin gathering evidence to support your claim. 


Medical and Expert Assessment: An independent report will be commissioned to assess whether there was a breach of duty (substandard care) resulting in your injuries. Additionally, our experts will evaluate your condition, any future prognosis, and the impact of your injuries on your life. 


Negotiation: We will engage in negotiations with the responsible party to pursue compensation for any injuries suffered and losses incurred both past and future (if appropriate). Should negotiations prove unsuccessful, we will consider issuing court proceedings for the court to decide whether the care provided was negligent (substandard) and the value of any compensation that you are to receive. 


Compensation: Upon successful negotiation, your compensation will be secured, providing you with the means to move forward from your injuries and towards recovery. 


Claimants can expect dedicated support from our solicitors specialising in medical negligence, guiding them through every step of the claims process with compassion and expertise.  


If a child is under 18 years, any settlement reached will have to be approved by the court and the money paid in to the court funds office until the child is 18. In some circumstances the compensation can be paid into the child’s account.  



How much compensation can you receive from suing the NHS? 


Compensation in clinical negligence claims may cover:

  • General Damages: For pain, suffering, and loss of amenity.
  • Special Damages: For financial losses such as medical expenses, loss of earnings, and care costs.


Compensation amounts for NHS negligence claims vary based on several factors: 

  • Severity of Injury: More severe injuries generally result in higher compensation. 
  • Impact on Life: The extent to which the injury affects your daily life and ability to work. 
  • Financial Losses: Compensation for lost earnings, rehabilitation expenses, and other financial losses. 


For example, compensation for a minor injury might range from a few thousand pounds, while severe cases can result in multi-million-pound settlements. However, each compensation settlement varies and is dependent on the specific circumstances surrounding a particular claim. 


Is it wrong to sue the NHS? 


Suing the NHS can raise ethical concerns, but it’s important to understand that negligence claims aim to secure just compensation for those impacted and improve patient safety. Holding the NHS accountable for mistakes helps ensure that similar errors do not occur in the future, ultimately enhancing the quality of care for all patients. 


Navigating the complexities of healthcare can be challenging, and when things go wrong, it can be even more daunting. If you believe you’ve been harmed due to negligence or substandard care by the NHS, you have the right to seek compensation. Here’s a comprehensive guide to understanding your legal rights and the steps involved in suing the NHS.


Your legal rights 


  1. Right to Compensation: Patients have the right to claim compensation if they have suffered harm due to clinical negligence. This compensation aims to cover the physical, emotional, and financial impacts of the negligence. 
  2. Clinical Negligence: To make a successful claim, you must prove that the care provided fell below the accepted medical standard and directly caused your injury or harm. 
  3. Human Rights Violations: In some cases, you might also claim if there has been a breach of your human rights, such as the right to life or the right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment. 



Steps to take when suing the NHS 


  1. Seek Legal Advice: The first step is to contact a solicitor who specializes in medical negligence. They can assess your case and provide expert advice on the best course of action. 
  2. Pre-Action Protocol: 
  • Letter of Claim: Your solicitor will draft a formal letter to the NHS detailing the negligence, the injuries suffered, and the compensation sought. 
  • NHS Response: The NHS has four months to respond, either accepting liability and proposing a settlement or denying the claim. 
  1. Gathering Evidence: Building a strong case requires substantial evidence, including: 
  • Medical records 
  • Expert medical opinions 
  • Witness statements 
  1. Funding Your Claim: There are several ways to fund a medical negligence claim: 
  • Conditional Fee Agreements (CFA): Also known as “no win, no fee” agreements, where you only pay your solicitor if the claim is successful. 
  • Legal Aid: Available for specific cases, such as severe neurological injuries in infants. 
  • Insurance: Check if you have legal expenses insurance as part of home or car insurance policies that might cover the costs. 
  1. Court Proceedings: If the NHS denies liability or a settlement cannot be reached, your solicitor may advise proceeding to court. The court will review the evidence and make a judgment on the claim. 


Potential outcomes 


  • Settlement: Many claims are settled out of court, with an agreed compensation amount between the parties. 
  • Court Judgment: If your case goes to court and is successful, the court will determine the amount of compensation you are entitled to. 



Time limits for making a claim 


  • General Time Limit: You must make your claim within three years from the date of the incident or the date you became aware of the injury. 
  • Exceptions: 
  • Minors: The three-year limit starts from their 18th birthday. 
  • Mental Incapacity: The time limit may be extended if the individual was mentally incapacitated at the time. 




Examples of successful NHS claims made by Fletchers 


Fletchers Solicitors has handled numerous successful claims against the NHS. For instance, one case involved a misdiagnosis leading to delayed cancer treatment, resulting in the tragic avoidable death of a grandmother, a 5-figure settlement was secured for their family. The following case studies highlight Fletchers’ expertise and commitment to securing fair compensation for their clients: 



How Fletchers Solicitors can help you make a claim against the NHS 


Understanding your legal rights and the process of suing the NHS for medical negligence is crucial. Fletchers Solicitors specialises in handling NHS negligence claims, leveraging their expertise to secure fair compensation for their clients. If you believe you have a case, contact Fletchers Solicitors for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your specific situation and learn how we can help you navigate the claims process. 


Contact Fletchers Solicitors  


Frequently Asked Questions 


Here are some of the most common questions asked about suing the NHS. 


How do I sue the NHS successfully? 


To sue the NHS successfully, gather all relevant medical records, consult with one our experienced medical negligence solicitors, and follow the pre-action protocols to notify the NHS of your intent to claim. Building a strong case with substantial evidence is crucial for a successful outcome. 


What is classed as NHS negligence? 


NHS negligence is classed as a breach of the duty of care by healthcare professionals that results in harm to the patient. This can include misdiagnosis, surgical errors, medication mistakes, and failure to provide adequate care, among other issues. 


How do I prove NHS negligence? 


To prove NHS negligence, you must demonstrate that the care you received fell below the standard expected of a competent healthcare professional, directly causing your injury or harm. This often requires expert medical testimony, detailed medical records, and evidence showing the link between the negligence and the harm suffered. 


What should I do if I suspect NHS negligence? 


If you suspect NHS negligence, first seek a second medical opinion to address any immediate health concerns. Document all relevant details, including dates, names of healthcare providers, and specific incidents. Then, consult with a specialist at Fletchers Solicitors to assess your case and guide you through the claims process.