We are now firmly in the midst of a “Where there’s a blame, there’s a claim” culture, and Doctors are in the cross-hairs of lawyers across the country. No longer is it unlikely that you will get sued, it is now very likely that you will have at least one law suit in your career. So why is this and what can you do about it?
I am a plastic surgeon, which along with Obstetrics and Orthopaedics, is the highest risk profession out there.
So what is the cause of this increase in lawsuits? I could go on about the lack of respect and appreciation that underpins society nowadays, but that would only make me appear to be a grumpy old man who goes on about how good things were “in the good old days”. It is interesting to note that an old retired surgeon I knew said that his MDU subscription when he qualified was 5 guineas for life!!!! Now the average is over £30,000 per year, and usually with excesses per claim added on.
are part of the reason that lawyers are turning their attention to the soft underbelly that is the medical profession. Since personal injury costs are being reduced as the government tries to quash the claim culture, lawyers are turning their attention to the cash cow that is medical negligence.
There are two important principles in medical negligence – Bolam and Bolitho. It makes good and important reading for all doctors. Chris Stone, a colleague of mine wrote a pertinent article talking about them both and I consider this essential reading for all doctors.
So what can we do about the current system? The answer is not a lot at the moment other than protect yourself with a good insurance policy and make sure that you document everything you say and do to and with a patient. Take photographs, document phone calls, write precise, legible notes, and above all be honest and truthful with patients. Apologise if things don’t go well, and try to resolve matters using hospital matrons (Directors of Nursing) or Senior colleagues. Don’t try new techniques until you have experience.
I think the system will collapse in the next 5 years as regulations come in to protect doctors from the indiscriminate attacks from ambulance chasers, because often this is not justice, it is merely the greed of certain lawyers who see the chance to make a quick buck. Remember that it is cheaper to settle out of court than it is to seek justice from the courts. All this does though, is to leave the doctor feeling guilty and cheated of the chance to defend him or herself.
Of course everyone has the right to a just and fair claim. If something has gone wrong through negligence, then it is only fair that that is resolved, and restitution given, but too often there is no justice, it is merely a monetary action with one aim and one aim only – to get as much money as possible for something that is a natural and recognised complication, but fighting it is too expensive.
To me that is not justice, nor is it fair, but while we live in this system, protect yourself.
My next article will follow up on this one and tell the story of a Doctor who was sued and how it impacted on his professional and personal life.