How will proposed reforms of legal aid impact on doctors?

I don’t usually write about political subjects. However I received an email from ‘soundof justice’ from the Law Society campaign  today and would like to bring your attention to the following:

There is a campaign with the Law Society called Sound Off Justice:
(, a campaign that’s focused on getting the public to place pressure on the government to reconsider the proposed reforms to Legal Aid, which are ill-conceived and unfair.
I was contacted   because my blog is aimed at the medical community and SoundOffJustice pointed out that under the new government proposals, victims of medical negligence will have no legal protection and  wondered how this might impact doctors.

This set me thinking about medical negligence and the possible impact of patients not having legal aid. I think that victims of medical negligence would clearly be disadvantaged by the proposed reforms for legal aid but not sure that it would impact on doctors (though some might not have to face legal action for negligence if the patient depended on legal aid), so there might be more  doctors who were performing badly.

If sued for negligence, doctors would continue to be able to defend themselves without legal aid, because hopefully all doctors have indemnity against claims from patients.

What do you think could be the impact of this proposed reform, on doctors?
Please post your comments  and on twitter account:
Facebook/Twitter/Vimeo: @soundoffjustice.

Many thanks.

2 thoughts on “How will proposed reforms of legal aid impact on doctors?”

  1. Susan rarely comments on political matters but I am not at all sure this is political.

    Many of us (all!) will have been involved in complaints.

    Fewer of us will have been involved in matters which go to Court as tortious claims – but one would imagine that most surgeons and gynaecologists will have been through this.

    It must be dreadful.

    My view is that the system in NZ should prveail here. In NZ there is a no fault compensation system : A disabled child following a traumatic birth will be compensated appropriately in the sense of assuring for his or her future rather than retributive damages.

    This is good for everyone – the child, his or her family, the drs and indeed the NHS.

    Whilst the Pearson Report and the Redress Act address this sort of issue it has nevber caught on in this country. Yet in NZ I understand it has been running for two decades.

    I have moved the question on from legal aid. I do not think that litigious processes help anyone. Whilst it is important that those without means can indeed enforce their rights ( as per Human Rights Act) I do not think that the system is correct in the first place.

    Any other thoughts ?

    ALl gd wishes

  2. You have raised a very important question.

    Negligence consists of a breach in the standard of care, damage and causation.

    The most difficult obstacle for any potential litigant is to prove that the damage they suffered is due to negligence.

    The standard legal “but for” (what was done caused the damage sustained) test is very difficult to prove.

    The extensive early caselaw (Whitehouse v Jordan, Sidaway v Bethlem, Pearce v United Bristols Hospitals, Hotson v East Berkshire; Gregg v Scott demonstrates what a lottery negligence actions can be.

    However, recent UK caselaw (Chester v Ashfar) & Australian caselaw has shifted the balance of power from the Bolam test of medical negligence (a body of medical opinion) to the “Prudent Patient” test.

    The “No Fault” compensation legislation in New Zealand doesn’t really solve this problem. It is expensive and underfunded.

    Other more attempts to replace the unpredictable Tort approach by a Strict Liability alternative, such as the NHS Redress Act are feeble attempts to adequately compensate victims of medical accidents, regardless of whether there is negligence.

    I agree with Susan, the removal of legal aid will make it more difficult for potential litigants to pursue their cases to the higher courts, a step that is often required to overcome the resistance of NHS Trusts and PCT to accept blame and the continued efforts of the Medical Defence bodies to assist their members.

    The class actions following thalidomide, Opren, and the benzodiazepine actions were all prolonged and hazardous for patients with phocomelia, renal and hepatic failure and addiction.

    ICI wisely introduced a “No Fault Compensation” scheme to compensate the victims of practolol toxicity.

    The more recent clinical trial disaster with a new immonological compound that occured at Northwick Park led to the bankruptcy of the manufacturer. There is no point in trying to sue a “Man of Straw”.

    Medical Negligence law is complicated and damaged patients require specialist legal expertise to trawl their way through the many potential minefields.

    Expert medical lawyers who are prepared to work “pro-bon” or on a “No Win-No Fee” basis may be difficult to find.

    Teh stress of prolonged battles through the courts is likely to add to the considerable distress many patients face when trying to find their way through what is a Byzantine legal system.

    Critical Incidents which may or may not be due to medical negligence still occur despite the efforts of the NPSA, local Clinical Governance, Audit and other attempts to reduce these.

    Probably the AvMA (Association of Victims of Medical Accidents) is the most experienced charity to assist the victims of medical negligence.

    They have a vast database of successful actions and who offer considerable support to damaged patients.

    In conclusion, the major hazard now faced by every practitioner is not the problem of medical negligence, but the rigour of the regulators and their employers in pursuing those trying to provide a good standard of care for their patients.

    Professors Sir Roy Meadow, David Southall (Child Protection), Steve Bolsin (Bristol), Dr Kim Holt (Baby P), Dr Raj Mattu, Dr Eva Michalek, and many others too numerous to name can testify to their personal experience of the consequences to their careers after trying to improve patient care.

    Their lives and careers have been systematically destroyed by the relentless, unaccountable, taxpayer funded and expensive pursuit of their employers.

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