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I have just finished reading Adam Kay’s brilliant memoir “This is Going to Hurt”. Adam was a junior doctor who specialised on obstetrics, and his book is very funny, and very moving. He talks about the physical and emotional exhaustion, and the terrible responsibility of knowing that although obstetrics is mostly about safe outcomes for both mum and baby, there will inevitably be some cases that result in catastrophe such as maternal death, or children with cerebral palsy.
He also talks about how upsetting it is when a patient threatens a legal claim. That’s sort of where I come in. I am a solicitor who specialises in medical negligence claims, but I hope I am nothing like the solicitors that he describes in his book (although fair enough, Adam, it is mostly a funny book, and you don’t have time to be nice to everyone). Over the 30 years or so that I have specialised in cases involving obstetrics and cerebral palsy, I don’t think I have ever sent a nasty letter to a doctor or a hospital. Most of the cases that I have dealt with have been tragedies both for my clients and for the medical staff involved, and I can think of only one time in my career where I have felt that a clinician didn’t care.
Another doctor turned author is Henry Marsh, and his best-selling book “Do no harm” describes his life as a neurosurgeon. Interestingly, he was a very senior consultant when he wrote his book, and had a very different perspective to Adam Kay. He talked very movingly about a number of cases in which he felt that he had been negligent, including a case where I acted for the claimant.
It was an adult brain injury case which resulted in devastating injuries and a very large out-of-court settlement. One of the most notable things about the case was just how honourably Mr Marsh behaved. Without going into too much detail, he was very quick to acknowledge that he might have made a mistake, and to make that known to the legal team defending the claim.
In the cases that we deal with, we often get an apology from the defendant once there has been a settlement. So, on behalf of all the lawyers who try to bring clinical negligence claims in a fair and decent way, I would like to apologise for those that don’t. I would also like to say thank you to the medics for the care that they provide, and for ensuring that for the most part it doesn’t hurt, and that they don’t do any harm.
Terrence Donovan is the Head of the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury Team at Kingsley Napley LLP. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this blog you can contact him on 020 7814 1260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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