I Am A Private Patient – Does This Affect My Medical Negligence Claim?


The Law Of… Claiming For Private Healthcare Negligence

The case of a rogue surgeon, recently jailed for 15 years, has highlighted the disparity in clinical error claims between NHS and private patients. Sarah Chambers, a Medical Negligence Solicitor at Simpson Millar, answers your questions on private healthcare compensation claims.

The case of a breast surgeon, who exaggerated and even invented the risk of cancer in his patients in order to convince them to undergo unnecessary operations, hit the news earlier this year. Found guilty of intentionally wounding, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail. But whereas patients who underwent unnecessary surgery on the NHS have received compensation – the total paid out well into the millions – those who sought private treatment are yet to receive a penny. What is going on?

Why Is There A Difference In Claiming Medical Negligence Compensation Between Private Patients And NHS Patients?

The disparity existing between NHS and private patients with regards to medical negligence claims is a matter of insurance.

Doctors, surgeons and other healthcare professionals working in the public sector are regarded as employees. This makes the NHS, as the employer, liable for any negligence claims that arise and the subsequent compensation.

In the private sector, doctors and surgeons operate as contractors, meaning they are responsible for their own indemnity insurance, which pays out any compensation if medical negligence is ruled to have taken place. Without insurance, a doctor or surgeon should not be allowed to practice in a private hospital.

What Does This Mean For Private Patient Compensation Claims?

Whereas NHS patients are protected by the hospital trust's insurance, which covers all legal liabilities, their private counterparts are reliant upon the policy that has been taken out by the surgeon or doctor attending them.

With the arrangement, in most cases, absolving the private clinic of any responsibility, it is the private doctor who is accountable for the patient's welfare and it is him or her who the claimant must pursue through the courts in order to secure compensation for their injury.

Why The Delay In Private Patient Medical Negligence Claims?

Although people who pay for private healthcare generally expect a better and faster level of service, they rarely consider what happens if something goes wrong.

The quick resolution of a claim hinges on the defendant's readiness to admit responsibility and settle. With private consultants, this isn't always the case, hence the need for court action.  

Another issue for the private patient making a compensation claim is that insurance policies covering a surgeon's private sector work often come with disqualifying clauses, which are enforceable if certain conditions are met. One common clause is that insurance will be invalid or withdrawn if a surgeon's actions are found to be criminal. This may have a bearing on the private patients currently seeking compensation against the disgraced breast surgeon.

What If I Am A Private Patient And Need To Make A Medical Negligence Claim?

If you think you have been the victim of medical negligence at the hands of a private practitioner, you should seek independent legal advice from a law firm, like Simpson Millar, with a dedicated Medical Negligence Department.

A successful claim will not only secure a financial settlement enabling you to get your life back on track, but it will also highlight the errors that resulted in your injury, preventing them from being repeated.

You have 3 years from the date of when the negligence took place, or from the date of when the effects of it were first diagnosed, to make your claim.

Sarah comments:

"Unfortunately we are seeing many private cases where the surgeons do not actually have insurance but are still permitted to practice within a hospital. This is in breach of General Medical Council guidelines."

"I would recommend all patients undergoing private care obtain and check their insurance details as well as those of the hospital, because in some instances the hospital will be held vicariously liable – responsible for another's actions – for the care provided by the surgeons."

"As a patient, you are well within your rights to make such a request."

If you have suffered injury due to a private healthcare professional's negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Speak with one of Simpson Millar's specialist team today.

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