When medical negligence affects children

Ending up in the hospital can be a frightening experience. You might not know your prognosis or even what your diagnosis is.

As intimidating as that is, imagine going through that as a child.

When young children are hurt or unwell, they may struggle to inform their families as they lack the vocabulary and the ability to express themselves. Even older children and teenagers may find it difficult to explain what’s wrong.

This can make it challenging for parents and guardians to understand the severity of the problem.

This is why we entrust our medical professionals to provide the answers. So when they are unable to or doctors make the situation worse, we can often feel like the situation is out of our control.

But one thing that we can take charge of is legal action.

The litigation friend’s role

By law, children are not able to bring a medical negligence claim for themselves. This is not to stop children claiming, but to ensure that they have the same chance of success as anyone else. Children can lack the maturity and experience to help them make the decisions that will result in the best outcome for them.

Children require the assistance of a litigation friend. This person – a parent or care-giver, in the majority of cases – is expected to act in their best interests. They make the decisions in a negligence claim and liaise with solicitors about the process.

Involving a litigation friend doesn’t drastically alter the process of a claim. The only significant differences between claiming for a child and an adult claiming for themselves is that the court must approve the settlement amount and that any compensation goes into a trust for the child to access at 18.

Although the pandemic is still dominating health news, we are also seeing a significant number of stories relating to clinical negligence affecting children.

Whether it’s the failings on maternity units or accidental medication overdoses being administered, children are some of the most vulnerable patients within the healthcare system. So when negligence affects them, it can be seen as an even more egregious error.

We expect our healthcare providers to put their best effort into helping children. When avoidable mistakes occur, it can damage the reputation of the entire sector and diminish the general public’s trust in these professionals.

In many cases, these mistakes have not been the result of the pandemic. They are historic problems, with their roots in various issues, such as a lack of investment.

The Covid crisis may force decision-makers to really examine funding levels for healthcare and ensure that everyone is properly cared for in future – but this all remains to be seen.

Image copyright: sumroeng chinnapan.