The world record for longest time between a message in a bottle being sent and received is 132 years.
1886 to 2018.
It was “posted” as part of research project into ocean shipping routes.
The glass container was thrown overboard from a German vessel in the Indian Ocean, washing up on a remote Western Australian beach.
If your letter requires someone else to take action, a delay of 100 years or more in someone reading the letter is not going to be good news for you.
When you send a letter, you expect it will be received and read within a few days.
We all understand that this is how the world works but what if a letter gets lost or delayed? – or is never even sent in the first place.
How does this relate to claims for medical negligence?
Well, it’s better to avoid having the need to make a personal injury compensation claim – including a medical negligence claim – than to have to go down that road at all.
Claims are stressful and compensation levels – even if you achieve 100 per cent of the value of your claim – will rarely feel like “full compensation”. Whether that’s for what you have been through already or also for what you may have to live with for the future, if you have ongoing symptoms.
In this article we will discuss ways you can avoid having to make a medical negligence claim at all.
That’s where letters come in.
These ideas will not help you if you are injured by a medical mistake in the course of an operation. However, many claims arise from unexpected and unacceptable delays in treatment and diagnosis – and the following suggestions may help you improve your chances of avoiding that kind of problem.
Avoiding delays in treatment and diagnosis.
In Scotland and across the UK, we expect and accept that there may be delays built into the NHS system anyway. We are not surprised if there is a waiting time or waiting list.
If you have an appointment with your GP or if your GP refers you to a specialist doctor for an opinion, there ought to be a paper trail.
You have the right to access your medical records – usually free of charge – and it can be helpful to get copies of particular excerpts from your records from time to time.
If you have an appointment via the NHS with a hospital consultant after a referral by your GP, you can expect that the specialist will write to your GP after the appointment to summarise their findings and any further course of action they have recommended.
Any letter of that nature will be for your GP’s information primarily.
You will not automatically see a copy of the letter or even know that it has been written – though would be entitled to see a copy of the letter if you wish.
Many attempts to make compensation claims for medical negligence are based upon communications that went astray or perhaps never even existed.
An example may help you better understand what we mean here.
The specialist tells you they will refer you on for a second opinion from another specialist or that you will be asked to go for further tests. But they forget to send the referral form or it goes missing in the system – which can happen.
In the meantime, you do not find the lengthy delay surprising. Most of us expect some delay, as it’s part of the system. Another possibility is that you did not pick up from the specialist at your appointment with them that they even intended there to be further investigation or treatment for you. These appointments are often brief and can be hard to follow.
Ways to improve your odds of successful communication taking place.
Doctors and staff in the NHS are busy and overworked.
There are not necessarily enough reminders and double-checks built into their processes. As a result, the course of your medical investigations, diagnosis and treatment may get sidetracked for any number of unintended reasons.
You can take some degree of personal responsibility for minimising the risk that delay will occur.
If you have had an appointment with a specialist, ask your GP for a copy of the specialist’s reporting letter to the GP so you can check your understanding of what was discussed and agreed as regards any action points.
If something “important” is agreed, as you understand it, it is worth considering writing letters to your GP and consultant in any event to confirm what you understand has been agreed.
“Dear Doctor, Thank you for meeting with me about X medical condition on Y date. I understand that you have decided to refer me for a second opinion from a Z type of medical specialist. I look forward to hearing from that consultant in due course.”
Of course, that’s not a guarantee that everything will run smoothly.
But it does give you a chance that the doctor or another member of staff may double-check your file for progress:
- Was a referral letter sent?
- Have we heard back from the recipient of the referral with an acknowledgment?
The alternative if you do nothing is that, if unintended delay is in fact occurring and no one is on your case, your health may be deteriorating at a dangerous rate.
And your chances of being diagnosed and treated successfully may be correspondingly reducing, as time passes with “nothing happening”.
We would recommend sending or hand-delivering a letter.
It’s better than sending an online message such as an email (or using any methods involving bottles).
Phone calls are not worthwhile because they are probably more disruptive to the person receiving the call and a phone call is not such a convincing piece of evidence as a letter.
Keep a copy (e.g. a photo of it on your phone) of the letter you send.
As you can see from the example above, the letter does not have to be a novel or complicated. Its main purpose is to record what you understand is to happen next – especially if that seems “important” to you.
Your hope is that it will cause someone to do a system-check to ensure that you have not been forgotten about.
In an extreme case, your letter might result in a communication breakdown being identified which otherwise might have been overlooked. You may end up being treated sooner and recovering better – thus preventing the need for you ever to have consider making a medical negligence claim because things have gone wrong.
Of course, you’ll never know your good communication “saved” you in this way but hopefully it makes the point about why effective communication is always a sensible idea.
How we can help
If you have any questions arising from this article, please feel free to contact us for clarification of anything.
You can contact Marie or Peter at Moray Claims / Grigor & Young on 01343 544077 or you can send us a Free Online Enquiry via this website. All initial enquiries are at no charge and without obligation.
Links you might like
- The Biggest Problem with Medical Negligence Claims (Moray Claims website article).
- Poor Hospital Care is not necessarily Medical Negligence (Moray Claims website article).
- The Most Important Medical Negligence Case of the Last 30 Years? (Moray Claims website article).
- 3 Reasons Why You should make a Formal Complaint before considering a Claim for Medical Negligence (Grigor & Young website article).