Some things in life are priceless; it’s hard to put a number on the value of life itself, or the quality of life afforded by your standard of health. But when either of these are negatively impacted by medical misdiagnosis, it’s possible to make a compensation claim. It won’t turn back the clock, but it can help you to recover from the devastating effects of someone else’s mistake.
Medical misdiagnosis describes a range of different problems arising from clinical negligence. It could be that a doctor wastes precious time treating menstrual problems with the contraceptive pill, when it later turns out that irregular bleeding was a symptom of uterine cancer. It could be fracture being mistaken for a sprain, and treated as such, causing permanent healing problems. It could be that a doctor does not notice a lung problem, even after taking an x-ray. It could be that you are dismissed entirely, with no apparent diagnosis, when your health is genuinely deteriorating and requires investigation.
In any of these, or other medical misdiagnosis scenarios, compensation is only available when there have been harmful consequences as a result of the clinical negligence. If you make a full and timely recovery from an illness, or if a bone happens to heal correctly after a fracture, then you will not be eligible to make a claim. However, compensation is available when there has been a detrimental impact on life expectancy, pain, lifestyle, or loss of earnings as a result of the misdiagnosis (e.g. time off work for delayed and therefore more intensive treatment).
In order to qualify for medical misdiagnosis compensation, it is imperative that you can demonstrate the following two criteria:
– The blame for the misdiagnosis can be clearly attributed to an error made by a practitioner or institution
– The misdiagnosis caused you harm (loss of earnings, increased pain, reduced life expectancy or damaged lifestyle)
The first criteria is important, and cannot be assumed. Sad things happen, and bodies have flaws, and sometimes it really is nobody’s fault. Medicines rarely have a 100% success rate, so if a doctor prescribes a respected treatment and it fails to work, that doesn’t put them at fault. If a patient experiences negative side effects, after having the opportunity to consent to the treatment and its possible repercussions, then they have made an informed choice and cannot blame the doctor.
So in what circumstances is it possible to attribute blame to the medical practitioner or institution? We should be able to assume and expect a standard of care equal to that provided by any “reasonable” healthcare professional in the same field. That means that doctors should be generally reliable and accurate within their specialism: issuing investigations such as blood tests, x-rays, ECGs etc. when necessary, diagnosing the issue correctly based on the results of the investigation, and providing suitable treatment to address the problem.
If a doctor fails to request or perform the necessary investigations, or misinterprets the results, the patient’s health is likely to decline without the proper attention. Alternatively, they might be put through unnecessary surgery, if a benign tumour is mistaken as cancerous. Or they could be diagnosed with a different ailment, which means that not only would treatment be delayed for the genuine problem, but there could also be ill-effects from the unnecessary, erroneous treatment.
Keep your hospital letters, appointment cards, prescription notices and any copies of investigation results given to you. Request copies of your medical records: you have a legal right to do so. Stay informed during the course of your treatment, and keep copies of anything that could be used as evidence if you suspect medical negligence.
We all hope that we can trust doctors implicitly, and most of the time they do provide compassionate and effective care. But when they fail to act professionally and make a mistake that affects you, you must not suffer in silence. The error should be flagged up and you should be entitled to financial support, helping you to get back on your feet again.