Clinical negligence: your questions answered

Common questions about clinical negligence and what to do if a case is brought against you.

A patient is alleging negligence against me. Does that mean my case will be referred to the GMC?

Not automatically. The GMC can investigate only serious cases where there is significant concern about the safety of patients or others, or where there are grounds to suspect a doctor's fitness to practise is impaired. This is entirely separate from clinical negligence proceedings. As there is no automatic referral process, the claimant, the health authority or other interested party would need to make a separate complaint to the GMC.

What happens when several doctors are involved in the same case?

The MDU writes directly to other MDU members, telling them they may be implicated and offering assistance if necessary. We may also liaise with any other medical defence organisation involved or NHS Resolution if the claimant was also treated in an NHS hospital. If there is a conflict of interest between individual MDU members, separate case handlers and solicitors may assist different members, without access to each other's files.

What should I do if a patient is starting legal action against me and yet remains registered with me?

This is not an unusual situation, and perhaps indicates that the patient does not view the claim in such a personal way as does the doctor.

The GMC states that you must not allow a patient's complaint to prejudice the care you provide.

Many practices are able to continue to treat patients during the course of a complaint or claim. However, at some stage, you may feel that your relationship is irretrievably damaged and that the patient would be better served by transferring his care elsewhere. You must bear in mind that the GMC requires that you do not end a professional relationship with a patient solely because he has made a complaint about you. We believe this guidance applies equally if a patient has made a claim against you.

Should I tell my colleagues that a patient is contemplating legal action against me?

Many doctors feel it is far better to be open about such matters. It can be helpful to develop a confiding relationship with a sympathetic colleague. Remember the importance of preserving patient confidentiality.

What is the best way of responding to a journalist who wants to discuss a case against me?

The MDU press office assists members in dealing with media enquiries. This is a 24-hour service and you can contact the press officers directly on telephone 020 7202 1535 or 020 7202 1504 (daytime) or 0800 716 646 (out of hours), or your case handler can refer you.

Because of your duty of confidentiality, beware of being drawn into any conversation with journalists, however innocent it may seem.

I am having increasing difficulty in coping because of the pressures of a claim against me. What should I do?

Unfortunately, it is quite common for doctors to develop symptoms of anxiety or depression in response to the threat of litigation. It is important that you recognise this and get help and support. Please speak to your medical case handler at the MDU to discuss your difficulties. Your own GP will be able to assist you and you may wish to tell a senior colleague of your difficulties and ask for help.

Your specialist association may provide support for members who encounter difficulties of this kind. Details are usually given in the association's journal or on its website.

Other sources of support:

Royal Medical Benevolent Fund

GP Health Service
A confidential NHS service for GPs and GP trainees in England.

BMA counselling and peer support services
The BMA offers a counselling service and peer support for doctors and medical students who are in distress or difficulty.

This page was correct at publication on 30/11/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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