View from a Surgeon – The true cost of litigation

I would like to follow up on a recent news article that was highlighted on Tomorrow’s Consultant, as well as a follow up from my previous blog a few weeks ago.

We hear about the cost in terms of billions of pounds that the NHS are having to find to fund claims – but what is the actual real life cost?

When the letter arrives with a statement of claim from a Lawyer, the first feeling is one of massive disappointment: Disappointment in yourself as a practitioner. We are all in this business to help people. We are not Gods – we are living, breathing people whose desire is to provide a service that helps people. When a patient is disappointed to the point of bringing a law suit, it is extremely disheartening. You start to question whether you are a good doctor. This then starts to affect the next patient you see, as you start to become more protective and may even do things and tests that you wouldn’t normally do, because you are not thinking clearly, you are thinking of the law suit.

Then you have to let the insurers know. This then starts the domino of your lawyer versus the claimant’s lawyer. If, like me, you have an excess on your policy, suddenly you are having to find tens of thousands of pounds to defend yourself.

The problem with claims is that they often settle without going to court. The reasoning being it is more expensive to defend than to roll over and settle. How does this make the doctor feel? Guilty is the answer. When it gets settled out of court there is always the feeling that the system supports the patient (claimant) and it seems that you are guilty until proven innocent. It always seems that the patient’s word is believed more than yours.

Often the problem is merely a complication that is part of what we do. As I say – we are not Gods – but this is not good enough to avoid the likely out of court settlement.

At the end of the day, it leaves the doctor feeling inadequate, disappointed and cheated of a fair hearing. It then starts to affect their day to day activities and often impacts on loved ones and family. Ultimately it can drive the doctor out of the profession, bitter and saddened by the perceived lack of support and respect from patients, lawyers and insurers, and angered by the fact that this is not “justice”.

That is the true cost of litigation.

What you have to remember is to hold your head up, keep believing in yourself, and find lawyers who will support you and ensure your voice is heard. Contact one of our legal expert partners if you need any advice or support.

 

If you’re considering starting your own practice then you’ll find all the support you need, from managing finance to marketing, to help set up and grow your new business.