The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) have published a report highlighting the personal impact that injuries from medical negligence can have on patients and their families, and their experience of the help they receive from compensation.
The Value of Compensation, published in January 2022, reminds us that claims against the NHS are about more than ‘spiralling litigation costs’, or other sensationalist terms used by politicians and medical defence organisations to justify reducing patients’ rights that we see all too often in the media. Such behaviour unfairly deflects attention from the severe suffering and often lifelong disability faced by those who have been injured by negligent NHS care, and causes guilt, shame or fear that prevents injured patients from claiming their right to compensation.
APIL commissioned research which was then conducted by an independent agency, through interviews with people of different ages, genders and ethnicity who have received compensation after NHS negligence (to themselves or a family member) within the last 15 years.
What is compensation for?
The report reminds readers that the purpose of compensation is to enable the person who has suffered from negligent medical treatment to get back to a ‘normal life’, as far as it is possible for money to do so. Compensation does not raise their standard of living above their circumstances before the injury. The negligence may also result in job loss, continued poor health, financial problems, relationship problems and loss of self-worth. Patients who have been injured as a result of negligent medical treatment may be able to claim compensation from the NHS if the negligence caused the injury.
The claim may include compensation for their pain, suffering and disability, their past losses and expenses, and future financial losses or costs of meeting their needs (e.g. for care). The report reminds us that every penny of the financial losses that are claimed must be accounted for in a schedule of loss.
Key findings from APIL’s report, The Value of Compensation
The report highlights that the consequences of NHS negligence are wide-ranging, affecting people’s physical, emotional and financial health. Many people find that their compensation does not adequately cover all the longer term effects of the negligence.
People who have suffered severe injury, disability or impairment from medical negligence live a limited life. They may struggle to move around their home, complete daily tasks or look after themselves. They may become isolated or lose their sense of self-identity as they become dependent on others, or are unable to look after their children.
Delayed recovery or longer lasting injury can lead to a spiral of decline, mounting debt, and psychological injury including depression and loss of self-identity. Those who have been injured or have lost a loved one become identified as a ‘victim’ of negligence and can find the fight for justice all-consuming. Depression is a common experience for those who have lost a child and can affect every area of their lives.
People who have been injured by medical negligence often suffer significant financial loss as a result of being unable to work. Savings which had been intended for life events, such as putting down a deposit on a house or funding a child’s university education, quickly become depleted. They may need to borrow money and soon face mounting debts. When the injured person has a longer-term impairment, a partner or family member may have to leave their work to care for them, further reducing the household’s income and increasing the family’s money worries. For some, the standard of living they were used to before their injury is severely reduced as they try to manage their living expenses on benefits. Even when recovery takes place, lack of confidence, inability to fulfil their previous role or the need for retraining can hinder their ability to return to work.
Other additional expenses that arise from a medical negligence injury include increasing travel costs or use of taxis to attend medical appointments, increased household bills from extra heating or convenience (as opposed to home-cooked) foods. Bereaved families also may incur expenses arising from their loved one’s death, such as funeral costs.
APIL’s research highlighted that compensation helps people who have been affected by medical negligence to get their lives back on track. Financially it helps people to recoup losses and relieve financial pressure. It can help recovery or prevent further loss of physical function by providing quick access to private therapies and medical or surgical treatment. When physical recovery is not possible, compensation helps the disabled person adapt to their disability by providing access to home adaptations and mobility aids. By providing this help, compensation enables people to regain their independence and their dignity. For some, compensation enables them to return to some activities of normal life by buying a suitable car, so that they can drop the children off at school or do the shopping. This helps them see themselves as more than ill or disabled.
Compensation also has a key role in providing a sense of security, helping ease the anxiety that people feel about the long-term implications of their own or their child’s injury. Knowing that there are funds to fall back on to ensure financial stability and access to care or treatment can be reassuring and enable them to move forward.
Compensation can be a way of acknowledging things that can’t be replaced, such as the loss of life. It can also provide a sense of justice or affirm that the patient has been believed and the NHS’s mistake acknowledged, particularly after the patient has felt unheard or ignored during their complaint or their claim has involved a long, hard fight.
However, APIL’s research found that many people found making a claim very stressful. They experienced feelings of frustration, devastation and injustice, having lost a loved one or suffering ongoing pain which should have been avoided. This was often aggravated by the approach taken by the NHS which varied from empathy to victimisation for challenging treatment decisions and pursuing a compensation claim. Similarly in relation to transparency, whilst some found NHS staff to be upfront about what had gone wrong and keen to learn from their mistakes, others had to deal with lies, alterations to their medical records, and NHS staff’s attempts to cover up the errors. The backlash from their complaint left the injured patients feeling very betrayed by the NHS. For many, it was an inhumane experience.
Call for compassion for those who have been injured by medical negligence
At Boyes Turner, our clients’ devastating injury and disability often falls into the category of ‘utmost severity’, requiring much higher than average levels of compensation to meet their lifelong needs for care, therapies, adapted accommodation and specialist equipment, and to compensate for a lifetime’s loss of earnings. Our clients’ have experienced the most extreme levels of pain, loss, and suffering that is highlighted by this report and should not have to suffer additional torment from media, political and medical defence insurance industry shaming around claiming compensation to meet the financial needs that arise from injuries that were caused by negligent NHS care.
At this time, as the government is actively working to find ways to reduce the rights of the most severely injured to claim compensation, we join APIL in calling for more understanding and compassion for those who have suffered as a result of medical negligence and live with serious disability.
If you or a member of your family have suffered severe injury or disability from medical negligence and you would like to find out more about making a claim, you can talk to one of our specialist solicitors, free and confidentially, by calling us free on: 0800 124 4845 or email us.