Medical Legal Advice
To the average person, the world of medical law can often be confusing. Typically, those who need medical legal advice will seek it in the areas of criminal law and personal injury. More often than not, those who need legal advice will be seeking advice regarding a personal injury case. Laws exist to protect those who have not been treated as they should by medical professionals, and there are laws in place to ensure that medical professionals themselves remain protected.
Laws Protecting Patients
A wide range of laws exist protecting patients, their physical well-being, and their freedom as defined by the European Human Rights Act, Article 8. As far as the law is concerned, patients are entitled to protection in the following ways:
- Medical professionals must respect their right to privacy. This means no disclosing data without consent. The Data Protection Act and the way in which it covers patients can be complex for service users and medical professionals alike.
- Medical professionals must obtain consent before proceeding with a procedure. This consent must come from a patient of full capacity. Children who have reasonable understanding of procedures are eligible to provide consent, but this will vary on a case-by-case basis. Consent must also be informed, which means a medical professional has the duty to warn of broad risks, but not all risks. Poorly informed consent can lead to negligence and battery cases.
- Medical professionals have a duty to care for patients in the best way possible. This means they must act with the utmost care, and should not do anything that could harm their patients. The duty of care of each medical professional varies on a case-by-case basis, but is also enshrined in case law.
Although the above three means of protection are described as meeting the needs of patients, the laws also meet the requirements of medical professionals. The law in England and Wales is designed to be fair, and serves the best interests of both parties.
Medical professionals are not just protected by the law, they are also protected by governing bodies. Doctors are covered by the General Medical Council (GMC) who outline guidelines for data protection, obtaining consent, and duty to care. While the GMC covers doctors, there are separate bodies covering other forms of medical professionals. For example, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) provides guidance to nurses and midwives.
As well as providing guidance to medical professionals, these governing bodies also have the power to discipline those who have done wrong. If a patient has a complaint relating to medical law, they can seek legal advice and begin proceedings against the person concerned. When this happens, the case will be heard by the GMC, NMC, or another relevant body, as well as in the law courts. If these medical bodies feel as though the person being legally pursued is not fit to practice, they can reprimand them in the form of a suspension or by taking away their registration.
As well as the GMC. NMC and other governing bodies, local NHS trusts and managers have the power to take action if a patient complains. For example, if a patient feels that they have been inadequately treated by a GP, they may complain to the practice manager. This could then be resolved within the practice, or it could be heard at a higher point in the NHS trust. With this route, it is still possible for the GMC to respond. This is a route that can easily be accessed by those who do and do not have professional legal representation.
Professional Legal Representation and Medical Law
Whether it is because of a personal injury or criminal case, professional legal representation is important when it comes to medical law. When patients are seeking justice, they have the option of taking on a solicitor, who may also instruct a barrister for court proceedings. Patients who fall into a certain income bracket will have the option of accessing legal aid; this is a fund that will pay for their solicitor. As far as criminal cases are concerned, legal aid has a higher availability. For those who are pursuing a medical professional while heading down the personal injury route, there is the option of 'no win, no fee' solicitors. These solicitors will take a percentage of the fee, if they are successful.
For medical professionals who are facing prosecution, many NHS trusts have a defence team that can act on their behalf. As far as personal injury cases are concerned, it is as much in the trust's interest to win as it is the professional's, as it is the trust that shoulders the financial burden. However, this is not always the case as far as GPs are concerned, as they are self-employed and contracted out by the NHS.
Other Modes of Assistance
It is not always the case that a patient can access legal advice when they need it. Some cannot afford a solicitor, but still do not fall into the legal aid category. For others, it is simply a case of needing to seek guidance before pushing for official legal proceedings to begin.
For those who cannot access legal advice and those who want extra guidance, it is possible to seek help from charities. The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is available to give advice to members of the public. Although it is a voluntary organisation, CAB often has trained legal professionals working for them, as they are looking for extra experience. For those who would rather seek information from a more specialised charity, there are patient charities available. Charities such as the Patients Association can help provide guidance to those who need it.
Although medical law may be complex, there is a wealth of advice out there for those who need it. Solicitors and barristers can provide professional services, while medical bodies like the GMC make their guidelines accessible for all. Charities and patient groups are there to help those who struggle to find legal advice, providing them with vital information. With such a wide variety of guidelines and resources in place, both patients and medical professionals are well-protected.