Clinical negligence

Clinical negligence

What work does BLM’s healthcare team do?

Victoria Mortimer was a vacation scheme student who spent one of her weeks working in BLM’s clinical negligence/healthcare team in Manchester. Victoria has gone on to secure a training contract with BLM.

At BLM, the healthcare team is split between regulatory and claims work and there is a great deal of liaison between the two halves of the department as clinical or healthcare systems errors may be intertwined with a range of regulatory risks.

Regulatory matters involve representing individual medical professionals who are under investigation by a healthcare regulator or a healthcare provider who has issues following a review of their work or practices. Healthcare claims involve dealing with civil liability arising in a healthcare context working with doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals and providers where there is a claim for injury or loss to a patient as a result of clinical care. There is link up with other departments around the firm and BLM is therefore able to provide a full service when it comes to legal issues arising in a healthcare context.

How has clinical negligence changed over time and will it change in the future?

It is a common view among the lawyers at BLM that there has been an overwhelming increase in cases over the years. There are generally more complaints and medical professionals are nowsubject to more scrutiny. With the government’s suggestion of state-backed indemnity for GPs, there may be changes ahead as to the funding of representation for GPs particularly.

What can you expect to do on a day-to-day basis?

I learnt very quickly that the work of a clinical negligence lawyer is extremely varied – no two clients or cases are the same!

As a trainee lawyer working in this department, you will often find yourself out of the office either attending inquests or court or visiting clients and counsel. When based in the office, you will be drafting statements, instructing counsel, preparing advice to clients and reviewing medical and expert reports as well as other interesting investigations into the case. Acting on behalf of defendants also involves considering tactics and, in a clinical negligence context, identifying whether a claim ought to be settled or contested.

Working in the healthcare department is not an ordinary desk job and a normal working day could involve travel too. The lawyers within the healthcare department usually work between the hours of 8.00am and 6.00pm and BLM also offers flexible starting and finishing times which means you can work at a time that best suits you and the clients you are working for.

Who are BLM’s clients?

The healthcare team represents individual medical and dental practitioners and a number of healthcare providers.

What skills do you need as a clinical negligence lawyer?

A wide skill set is vital to work in this field. Generally, you will need good analytical, drafting and advocacy skills, and an ability to translate complex clinical and legal problems into more manageable terminology for those you represent. You will also need to decipher what a claim is really about – for example, is the claim for a delay in diagnosis, is it a surgical issue or has there been a communication breakdown?

Most importantly, to ensure you are able to focus on the task in hand, emotional intelligence is essential, and you must be comfortable working with a range of different people, many of whom have significant experience in their field of expertise. The subject matter of some cases can make for difficult reading but it is extremely important that you maintain a personal detachment and do what is best for your client.

Are there any common misconceptions surrounding clinical negligence?

Many people think that a healthcare lawyer needs to have some medical background or experience. However, although you will have to read and understand medical reports dealing with complex medical issues, I found that you are often guided by your clients and the experts and they assist with the lawyer’s understanding of the medical issues in a case. Fundamentally, your role is to guide the client through the legal process, and you will gradually pick up medical knowledge as you become more experienced.

What cases should every clinical negligence lawyer know about?

For medical negligence claims, a sound knowledge of the Bolam and Bolitho tests for breach of duty are vital, and for medical consent and causation, you should also be aware of the case of Chester v Afshar. The latter case has also very recently been clarified in Duce v Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust.

The case of Dr Bawa-Garba is a significant case for regulatory work as it draws attention to the powers of the GMC and its ability to effect a second chance of prosecution. The junior doctor in question was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and Dr Bawa-Garba’s erasure from the GMC’s Register of Medical Practitioners has caused concern for many doctors.

Would I recommend this department to a potential trainee solicitor?

Definitely! I really enjoyed my time with this team and hope to complete a six-month seat there when I start my training contract.

BLM

BLM is an insurance risk and commercial law firm with both a domestic and international focus. We have established a deep-rooted presence in the general insurance sector, the London Market and among brokers. We also have a significant presence among corporate businesses many of whom are multi-national, the public sector and the health and care industry.

For further information about the firm, see www.blmlaw.com

More in this category: « Banking and finance