There is some good news though – the latest figures from the NHS Litigation Authority show that the average time taken to resolve a claim against the NHS has reduced to one year and three months in 2012/13, three months fewer than four years ago.
These average figures help to demonstrate that not all claims take years to complete – but anyone making a medical negligence claim must be aware from the start the time it could potentially take for their case to be resolved.
So why is the process so lengthy? Well, to investigate a medical negligence claim properly, there are several steps required that need to be followed. Each step takes time and third parties can be responsible for setting the timescales rather than solicitors or clients.
A broad outline of the process shows some of these steps, although it’s important to again emphasise that all claims, and therefore the work needed to deal with them, can vary. Generally, the more complex and serious the injury or condition, the longer things will take.
An obvious starting point is a discussion with a solicitor to establish the validity of a claim. Details of your injury or condition will be looked at, along with causes and culpability. You will also talk about different ways in which your claim could be funded.
Once a claim has been taken on, the process of evidence gathering begins. Medical records – themselves often lengthy – must be sought and sent to a medical expert to examine and assess via a report that looks at the extent of any negligence. Depending on the workload and availability of the individual, this can take some time to produce, with the possibility that more than one expert will need to be consulted.
Expert reports will be looked at and discussed, potentially involving client, solicitor, experts and a barrister if the issues involved are complex and, if the end result is that the claim is progressed, the relevant allegations are then put to the defendant in writing.
The defendant has four months to respond – which normally always takes this amount of time, often longer – and will either accept liability or elect to contest the allegations. It could be that liability is admitted early or, at the other end of the scale, if it’s not admitted it may be necessary to commence court proceedings and the matter will proceed to trial. If this occurs, it is likely to take a minimum of three years to be resolved. Even if liability is admitted, it can still take time to quantify all the consequential financial losses.
While all of this might sound daunting or frustrating at first glance, it’s also helpful to be aware of potential timescales when starting out with a claim so that future frustrations can be minimised further down the line.
At Fletchers, we are committed to providing clients with the best possible service and this extends to making sure that cases don’t take any longer than they should. No matter what stage a claim is at, we’ll be there to help. Timescales shouldn’t put people off – many people succeed with their claim and find that their patience has been worth it.