What is A&E negligence and what standard of care can I expect?

Doctors and nurses within A&E departments are working in extremely pressurised environments and are required to treat patients at speed and in a safe manner. The law states that junior doctors are judged to the same standard as their more experienced colleagues, even though many junior staff will be on a steep learning curve.

A&E doctors and nurses are often not expected to decide upon a definite diagnosis since an ailment could be representative of a vast number of conditions. However, they are expected to place the patient on the correct pathway which will eventually lead to the correct diagnosis. A&E doctors and nurses are also expected to triage patients correctly so that the most urgent cases are addressed first.

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What are the most common types of misdiagnosis in A&E?

Some of the most common injuries from negligent diagnosis and treatment within A&E departments are:

·         Fractures

·         Meningitis

·         Aortic aneurysm

·         Cauda Equina Syndrome - i.e. damage caused to the bundle of nerves below the end of the spinal cord.

 

What can cause a birth injury to the mother?

It is possible for injuries to occur naturally during childbirth. However, unfortunately, errors are sometimes made by hospital staff which can cause injuries. Hospital staff are expected to be able to recognise risks and take the necessary preventative actions. Some examples of possible errors include:

·         Delayed caesarean section causing damage to other organs, nerves or blood vessels

·         Warning signs being missed in relation to placental abruption (i.e. the placenta is dislodged from the uterus wall prior to childbirth)

·         Incorrect administration of anaesthetic (in terms of quantity) which can cause brain damage, nerve damage and unnecessary pain.  

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Can I bring a claim on behalf of a loved one?

If the person who has suffered the brain injury no longer has capacity to bring a claim themselves, then you can bring a claim on their behalf. You would be appointed as a Litigation Friend.

The Litigation Friend is appointed by the Court and must first satisfy certain criteria, such as being able to conduct the claim in both a fair and competent manner. A Litigation Friend must also file and serve a Certificate of Suitability at the Court.

What are the common symptoms of cancer?

Different types of cancer have different symptoms. However, there are certain warning signs that GPs should recognise and act upon (often by referring the patient to a specialist).

Examples of common symptoms include:

  • Fast growing lumps
  • A persistent cough for more than three weeks, chest pain and breathlessness
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as seeing blood in your stools and experiencing consistent bloating or diarrhoea/constipation
  • Changing appearance of moles in terms of shape, size and colour  
  • Sudden weight loss without another reason.
What are the most common misdiagnoses of cancer?

Many types of cancer can display symptoms which are similar to other conditions which are not cancerous. Unfortunately, this can result in the misdiagnosis of cancer.

Examples include:

·         Breast cancer – can be confused with benign lumps and other inflammatory breast conditions

·         Bowel cancer – can be mistaken for conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) 

·         Lung cancer – can be confused with other infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis

·         Pancreatic cancer – can be mistaken as pancreatitis (i.e. an inflammatory disease).

Can I bring a claim on behalf of a relative who has passed away from cancer?

It may be possible to bring a claim on behalf of a deceased relative who has suffered from medical negligence. The family of the deceased need to apply for a Grant of Probate which is issued by the local Probate Registry.

If the deceased did not leave a will, the person granted Probate is called an ‘Administrator’. However, if a will is in place, the person is called an ‘Executor’ instead. Regardless of the title, both an ‘Administrator’ and an ‘Executor’ can pursue claims on behalf of all Dependants of the deceased within the relevant Limitation period.

 

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Can I bring a claim on behalf of a child?

Yes. Any injured patient under 18 years of age is considered a child. This means they lack ‘capacity’ to bring the claim themselves and a Litigation Friend is appointed to bring the claim on the child’s behalf. The Litigation Friend is often a parent or guardian to the child. However, the Court can decide that a different party would be suitable (such as a family friend or a solicitor).

The Litigation Friend is appointed by the Court and must first satisfy certain criteria, such as being able to conduct the claim in both a fair and competent manner. A Litigation Friend must also file and serve a Certificate of Suitability.

Is there a time limit for bringing a claim on behalf of a child?

In most cases, there is a three-year time limit for bringing a medical negligence claim.  The three years begins from the date of the negligence or from the date that the patient should have known that the injury was or could reasonably be linked to the original negligence.  

However, in the case of a child in England and Wales, the three years begins on their 18th birthday. Therefore, a claim must be made before they reach the age of 21 years old.

 

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What happens if the child is now an adult?

If the child has ‘mental capacity’ then they will need to bring the claim in their own name. However, as a parent you will always be able to provide support throughout the process.

If the child does not have ‘mental capacity’, you may be able to pursue the claim on their behalf by acting as their Litigation Friend. Please see question 1 above. 

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