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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Patients who sue

Dr David Turner writes

You are going through your mail and your heart suddenly misses a beat. Its letterhead stands out from all the others - yes, it’s from ‘Parasite and Leach Solicitors’.

You put it to one side unread and wait for a quiet moment until you are feeling stronger to tackle it. You have an idea what it will contain already: a patient with a sprained ankle feels his recovery was delayed because he was distressed by the colour of the walls in your waiting room and he is suing you.

I am exaggerating of course, but not that much.

Getting sued by a patient will happen to all of us in our careers, probably more than once. There are times when patients do genuinely deserve monetary compensation for an error, but mostly it is greedy lawyers encouraging the unemployable and stupid to suck more of the life blood from the NHS.

What riles me is that so many of these so called legal advocates will have had their higher education funded by the tax payer and then instead of being grateful for the free education and professional qualification, they turn around and bite the hand that fed them.

You then arrive home and turn on the news to learn that only one in 10 women in South Sudan ever sees a midwife in pregnancy. Then the image is replaced by one of thousands squatting in filthy tents in a cholera ridden refugee camp in another part of the world.

What actually does go through the heads of ambulance-chasing lawyers when confronted with such images? I guess they are watching the advertisement for the new Audi on another channel.

Of course the NHS must always strive to improve, but we should remind patients how fantastically lucky they are to have a health service in the first place.

So the next ‘emergency’ patient you see with mild neck ache after a car accident, advise them to sack their sad excuse for an attorney and thank God they are not being shot at while standing in a queue for water with their sick child.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London

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Readers' comments (39)

  • I agree most complaints are spurious. They can be dealt in house with an open discussion and making it into a learning need for the practice. The patient will be happy that their side has been listened to and the practice will learn from the mistake. When solicitors get involved it normally means no way back and will end in a good defence or paying out. The system needs to change where patients must understand that mistakes do happen and are not deliberate. Compensation should only be paid if the doctor has been negligent. This unfortunately can be difficult to prove either way hence the need for lawyers who will have their own expert witnesses who contradict each other.

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  • The British public is spoilt.That's what happens when everything is free at the point of delivery.It becomes devalued.It's the same with the education system.Speak to any teacher and they'll tell you about the abuse they have to put up with when they're not getting stabbed that is !!

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  • I know a GP who was sued and settled out of court. He was telling me the solicitor's fee was more then x10 th fee patient received in compensation.

    Solicitors - Don't try and tell me it's for the greater good of the public. You know exactly why you are in the business

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  • Solicitors are no more to blame than scorpions that sting.They're following their nature.The real muppets are those who become doctors because they want to "help people". When they get shafted by those very people they act all shocked and surprised.

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  • I was only sued once. Had it been in the NHS I expect there would have been a settlement by the hospital, without admitting liability, because an early settlement saves money (a day in the County Court works out at about £15-20K). Because it was in the private sector the MPD defended me up to the wire. The first I knew of trouble was a lawyer's letter attaching a vicious medical report. The patient's story, it turned out, had more holes than a colander, something we were able to determine from their GP notes (handwritten- had the system been computerised the clinching throwaway remark might never have been entered). They withdrew the day before the case came to court but meanwhile I had had over a year of distress and sleepless nights, and the family suffered. Vindication comes at a heavy price!

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  • Unfortunately all the vexatious claims give the few genuine and deserving claims a bad name.

    People should be allowed to aggressively counter-sue failed or withdrawn claims so that those who try it on are made to think about the risks before they start their trouble-making. The problem with the current system is not that people are allowed to claim because there is a need for that, but that they claim with no cost or risk to themselves and that encourages the vexatious claims.

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  • The problem is that we can't countersue for stress/loss of earnings/libel..... which is a whole lot of b*ll. Any other profession would be able to do that, still don't see why doctors can't. Would solve this problem like a shot

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  • Yes can anyone tell us why we can not take legal action against a proven false allegation.

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  • http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/lets-counter-sue-frivolous-complainers/10856404.article#.Vcx3oHFVhHw

    from 2003!

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  • Why aren't the BMA doing anything about this? Solicitors claiming 10x the settlement is bordering on corruption and we should be pressing hard for reform.

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