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14 Medical Accidents

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1. Introduction

2. What is a medical accident?

3. What should I do if I have suffered a medical accident?

4. How do I find out more about what happened to me?
You should first ask for a detailed explanation from your doctor or from the healthcare professional who was involved in your treatment. The doctors’ professional code of conduct says a doctor should explain what happened during your treatment and, if necessary, apologise. But this doesn’t always happen, and you may not get all the information you want. If you don’t, there are several other steps you can take.

The NHS complaints procedure
You can use the NHS complaints procedure to make a complaint about treatment you received under the NHS. This includes NHS care provided by a private hospital. If you had your treatment through an NHS Foundation Trust, the Trust may have its own complaints procedure, though this is likely to be similar to the NHS procedure.

You should be able to get details of how to complain from your GP's practice, the clinic or the hospital that treated you. If you can, you should put your complaint in writing, and include any questions you want answered.

You should make your complaint within six months of your injury. However, a healthcare provider may still look at a complaint made after this – particularly if there is a good reason why you could not complain before.

Often complaints take many months to resolve. If you are making a complaint but are also considering legal action, it is very important that you do not wait too long before deciding whether to start a legal claim. This is because there are strict time limits on legal action. See ´How long do I have to claim compensation?'.

If you are complaining because a relative has died during or after treatment, contact the coroner. See ´What if a relative has died as a result of a medical accident?'.

Getting your medical records
It may help you make your complaint if you get copies of your medical records from your doctor or from the hospital or clinic that treated you. You have a legal right to these under the Data Protection Act 1998 (or in some cases, the Access to Health Records Act 1990). You may have to pay up to £50 to get copies of your medical records, including copies of any X-rays and scans.

If you represent someone who has died (for example, a close relative), or you are making a claim about someone's death, you also have the right to be given their medical records.

Getting expert advice
Bear in mind that when you make a complaint, you may not get an explanation that is as full or as accurate as you would like. To get the best out of a complaints procedure, it is a good idea to get specialist advice.

You can get advice from:

  • the Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS), if your complaint is about NHS treatment in England;
  • your local Community Health Council, if your complaint is about NHS treatment in Wales;
  • the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). There is a PALS in all NHS trusts, which can help you resolve everyday concerns and problems with NHS care that you do not want to make a formal complaint about;
  • Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA). This charity can give you support and medical information to help you make an effective complaint. It can also provide legal advice and refer you to a specialist solicitor if you want to claim compensation;
  • other specialist health organisations. If there is a charity or support group for people with your medical condition, it may be able to offer advice about whether the treatment you received was appropriate;
  • medical libraries and medical websites. If you are confident about understanding medical language, medical libraries and websites can give you information to help you prepare your complaint;
  • specialist solicitors. Some solicitors will advise you about making a complaint and help you decide whether you need to do this before making a claim.

Keeping a record
If you think you may have suffered a medical accident, it is a good idea to keep a record or diary of everything that happens to you during and after your treatment. This will help if you decide to make a complaint. It will also help your solicitor investigate your case if you decide to make a legal claim.

If you are thinking about taking legal action, you should also keep a record of any extra money you have to spend because of your injury; for example, taxi fares, lost earnings and care costs. Photographs of injuries can sometimes be useful too, especially for legal action. If you are not sure whether photographs are needed, or if it would be distressing or embarrasing, ask a clinical negligence solicitor for advice.

If you are making a complaint you should keep a copy of the letter you write, particularly if you might want to claim compensation later.

5. What if I want to complain about a professional´s behaviour?

6. When can I claim compensation?

7. How do I claim compensation?

8. How do I decide whether to take legal action?

9. What if I can´t afford to pay for a solicitor?

10. What do I have to prove to claim compensation?

11. What can I claim compensation for?

12. What can I do if my treatment was private?

13. What if a relative has died as a result of a medical accident?

14. What if my injury was caused by faulty medical equipment?

15. What if I want to make sure that the same mistake is not repeated?

16. Further help

17. About this leaflet

Logo of AVMAThis leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Action Against Medical Accidents.

Leaflet Version: June 2008

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