Clinical negligence is when care given by a healthcare professional is below an acceptable standard and causes physical or mental injury, or death.
Most people are happy with the treatment and care they get from healthcare professionals. But sometimes mistakes can be made and this can be very upsetting. If the mistakes have caused an injury, you may decide to ask for legal advice and make a clinical negligence claim.
We can’t advise you about whether it’s right for you to make a claim. We hope this information answers your questions and directs you to other organisations that can help and support you.
The difference between making a clinical negligence claim and a complaint
Back to top
Making a clinical negligence claim is different from making a complaint. In a clinical negligence case, you are asking for money after an injury or death. The main reason for making a complaint is to get answers about what went wrong. You may also want to get an apology or be told that there will be changes to practice to stop it happening again.
Possible reasons for clinical negligence
Back to top
Negligence may happen if:
there has been an unacceptable delay in getting a diagnosis or a referral to a specialist doctor
the wrong treatment has been given
treatment has not been monitored properly.
Things to think about before making a clinical negligence
Back to top
A claim for clinical negligence can go on for a long time. This can be stressful and use a lot of your time and energy. It can also be expensive. You may already have other things to cope with if your health is affected. It’s a good idea to think carefully before you begin and to get some advice.
Usually the more serious the mistake, the more reasonable it is to think about a clinical negligence claim.
You may find it helpful to talk about your concerns with healthcare professionals or you can use the NHS complaints procedure. Or you can contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS – England), the Patient and Client Council (Northern Ireland), the Patient Advice and Support Service (Scotland) or your local Community Health Council (Wales). This may lead to the result you are looking for.
The Law Society and Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) have a referral panel of solicitors who specialise in clinical negligence and who are accredited by them.
Contact details for all these useful organisations are listed at the end of this page.
How much time do you have to make a clinical negligence claim?
Back to top
You must start the claim within three years from the date you knew, or could have known, that a mistake may have resulted in an injury. The Court rarely extends this to longer than three years. This three-year period does not begin until a child's 18th birthday. So a child has until they are 21 to begin a clinical negligence claim.
Making a clinical negligence claim
Back to top
Choosing a solicitor
You will need a solicitor who is an expert in clinical negligence. The Law Society and Action Against Medical Accidents can help put you in touch with solicitors in your area. Contact details for these organisations are at the end of this page.
Ask your solicitor about their experience in clinical negligence claims, and if they have had any similar claims to yours.
Asking for your medical records
You will need a copy of your medical records and possibly copies of scans and x-rays. You do not have to give a reason for asking to see your records. You can ask for them during a consultation or you can write or email your request. If you are asking for the records of a relative or friend, you need their permission.
You should get your records within 40 days of you asking for them. You will usually have to pay for them. The cost may vary, but will be no more than £50.
Getting another medical opinion
Your solicitor will ask if an independent medical expert agrees there has been clinical negligence. The expert will look at your medical records, your statement about what happened and anything else that supports your case. If the medical expert agrees, the solicitor will go ahead with the claim.
Making a claim
Your solicitor then writes a letter about your claim to your hospital or doctor. They have four months to investigate and reply to the allegations of negligence. They may accept or deny responsibility. If they don’t accept responsibility, legal proceedings may start.
Clinical negligence claims rarely end up in court. Most cases are settled before legal proceedings are started. Those that are started are usually settled before trial. Both sides are encouraged to settle the case quickly to avoid extra costs.
Funding your clinical negligence claim
Back to top
Your solicitor will talk to you about your legal costs. There are different ways of paying, and you may be entitled to some help. For example:
You may be insured for legal costs under your insurance policy. Check all your policies.
You may have a 'No-win, No-fee’ agreement where you don’t pay your solicitor if they lose the case. There are still other costs to pay, so your solicitor will arrange an insurance policy to cover these if needed.
If you’re a member of a trade union, you may be able to get financial help from them.
You may pay for the legal costs yourself. A clinical negligence claim can be very expensive so this is unlikely to be a choice for most people. Your solicitor can advise you about the likely cost of making a claim.
Your feelings about making a clinical negligence claim
Back to top
Making a clinical negligence claim can be difficult and upsetting. It may be painful to remember what has happened, and to keep going over it.
If you still need medical care, you may find it hard to trust your healthcare professionals. You can mention this to them so they understand your worries.
You’re likely to feel lots of emotions and these may be too much to cope with. Each person has their own way of coping with difficult situations. You may find it helpful to talk to family, friends or someone outside of your situation. Other people prefer to keep their feelings to themselves. There is no right or wrong way to cope. Our Online Community is a place where you can share experiences with people who know what you’re going through.
The organisations listed below may be able to offer you advice and support. You may find it helpful to talk to a counsellor who can listen and help you deal with your emotions. Our cancer support specialists can give you advice about finding a counsellor in your area.
You might find it helpful to read our information about coping with the emotional effects of cancer.
Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA)
An independent charity that works exclusively for the victims of medical accidents. Provides free, independent advice and support, and has caseworkers who help people through the process of making a clinical negligence claim.
44 High Street, Croydon CR0 1YB
Tel 0845 123 2352 (Mon–Fri, 10am–5pm)
Board of Community Health Councils in Wales
2nd Floor, 33–35 Cathedral Road, Cardiff CF11 9HB
Tel 0845 644 7814
Independent Advice and Support Service
Contact the Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS)
1st Floor Spectrum House, 2 Powderhall Road,
Edinburgh EH7 4GB
Tel 0131 550 1000
Law Society – England and Wales
Law Societies aim to improve access to the law and can help to find a solicitor.
113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL
Tel 020 7242 1222
Law Society of Scotland
26 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh EH3 7YR
Tel 0131 226 7411
Law Society of Northern Ireland
96 Victoria Street, Belfast BT1 3JZ
Tel 028 9023 1614
Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS) – England only
Provides information, advice and local support to help patients, families and their carers.
Find your local PALS office through NHS Choices nhs.uk
Patient and Client Councils
There are local Patient and Client Councils in Northern Ireland.
Tel 0800 917 0222
The Patients Association
The helpline provides information on a wide variety of issues, ranging from finding local support groups for certain medical conditions, NHS services and support groups, to what patients are entitled to, making a complaint and listening to patients’ experiences.
PO Box 935, Harrow HA1 3YJ
Tel 0845 608 4455 (Mon–Fri, 9.30am–5pm)
This section has been compiled using information from the following reliable source:
With thanks to Timothy Spring, Clinical Negligence Solicitor, who reviewed this edition.
Thank you to all of the people affected by cancer who reviewed what you're reading and have helped our information to grow.
You could help us too when you join our Cancer Voices Network - find out more.