By Simon Wilson, Senior Solicitor, Hudgell Solicitors
As medical negligence experts, first and foremost, in every case we take on, we put the best long-term interests of our clients at the heart of our work, with a focus purely on securing the very best outcome for them.
Many of those we represent have suffered serious, life-changing injuries as a result of sub-standard medical care. They are not after a quick compensation settlement. They are looking for some form of justice and help to get their lives back on track.
When clients turn to us at Hudgell Solicitors, it is often at a time of tremendous difficulty in their lives. They look to us, as legal experts, to use all of our knowledge and expertise to provide them with the strongest possible representation.
For us, that means the focus for each and every case is simple.
We do all we can to achieve the very best outcome for our clients. We ensure all relevant investigations are carried out into what went wrong and why, asking the relevant questions and seeking independent expert opinions.
If answers are not forthcoming from defendants, or we feel they are insufficient, at present we are in a position to demand more. To not do so would be a failure to represent our clients to the standards they expert, and deserve.
However, should new proposals to place strict limits on the fees lawyers can claim from medical negligence cases be approved, the ability of our experienced experts to do their jobs properly on behalf of their clients could be seriously affected.
In fact, such law changes could represent a real threat to justice for many victims of medical negligence in the UK.
Let’s be clear, our legal experts don’t want claims to drag on for extended periods of time. The quicker we can settle a claim for our clients in a satisfactory manner, the better. It allows them to begin that difficult process of rebuilding their lives as soon as possible, and for us, it brings increased customer satisfaction.
It has been suggested that the costs need bringing down to always be proportionate to the eventual damages settlement, in cases where claims are below £100,000. However, these cases still involve people who have suffered serious, life-changing injuries.
Whatever changes are made, it is vital that the fees allowed enable a sufficiently experienced lawyer to investigate a claim properly and get the right answer for the injured patient.
It is of course understandable that the Government wants to cut the hefty £259m legal bill associated with medical negligence claims, but it is missing a key issue in these new proposals – the repeated delays in the NHS admitting liability.
Often, in the face of overwhelming evidence showing clear medical negligence, NHS bodies refuse to admit liability, forcing lawyers down the route of seeking further reports and opinions, and perhaps even issuing court proceedings.
This simply results in spiralling costs, all to come to an eventual settlement which could have been reached months, perhaps years earlier.
It is therefore entirely unfair to lay the blame for these costs at the feet of medical negligence lawyers, as Health Minister Ben Gummer has done. The reality is, costs can come down if the NHS admit liability promptly, when it’s appropriate.
Such an approach may also help turn the focus towards learning lessons from mistakes, improving procedures, and hopefully reducing errors across the NHS.
The cost of medical errors should never be measured in pounds and pence. It should be measured on the impact it has on quality of life of people across UK.
That has to be the focus now, and in the future.