If you have been the victim of a medical mistake, you should not hesitate to talk to us about how we can help. However, if you are not ready to involve a solicitor, there is plenty that you can do for yourself. Below, we summarise some common ways of approaching healthcare problems, which other people have found useful.
You have a legal right to see copies of your medical records, unless very unusual circumstances apply.
The law that governs this process is set out in the Data Protection Act 1998. Trusts and GP surgeries are obliged to provide copies of all your records within 40 days of being asked. They must copy all written notes and provide print-outs of computerised data. They can make a charge to reflect their duplication costs, but the fee must be reasonable, and must not exceed £50.
If you want to obtain copies of hospital records, you should make a formal approach, in writing, to the Medical Records Officer of the NHS Trust that oversees the hospital(s) in question. If you are interested in seeing copies of your GP records, you should write to your GP in person (although you may find it easiest to make an informal approach: your GP should be happy to help). If you are only interested in a certain portion of your records (for instance, those covering a given set of dates, or those relating to a particular course of treatment), you can specify this. If you want to obtain someone else's medical records (for example, those of a relative), you can only do so with the written consent of that person (even if he or she is a child, so long as he or she is old enough to understand the principles involved).
To make the request, just write a simple letter in your own words. Often, you will receive a standard form to fill in and, naturally, you should complete this and return it. In addition, you may well be asked to prove who you are; this is normally achieved by getting someone who knows you to verify your signature (rather like a passport application). Do keep copies of all correspondence, in case any difficulties arise.
If you have followed the correct procedure, and you are still being denied access to your records, we will be glad to help: speak to us.
If you are interested in seeing the medical records of a deceased relative, then a different law (the Access to Health Records Act 1990) applies. You may be able to gain copies of such records, by writing to the relevant Trust, explaining your relationship to the deceased. However, disclosure of records, under these circumstances, is not necessarily an automatic right. If you encounter any problems, please do not hesitate to talk to us.
When you are having problems with health or healthcare, it can be very easy to feel isolated but, whatever you are going through, you can be sure that there are other people in a similar situation. Many of our clients have found it very helpful to join a group that can support them, in the first instance, and will also give them the opportunity to give the benefit of their experience to others, in due course.
There are thousands of patient groups and charities throughout the UK, providing information and support for patients and carers across the whole spectrum of medical conditions. Patient UK is a highly recommended resource, which includes a directory of over 2,000 UK self-help groups, patient groups, charities, and similar organisations: www.patient.co.uk/selfhelp.asp.
Some of the groups with which our department has close ties are:
Baby Lifeline - www.babylifeline.org.uk
Children's Heart Federation - www.childrens-heart-fed.org.uk
Disabled Parents Network - www.disabledparentsnetwork.org.uk
The Erb's Palsy Group - www.erbspalsygroup.co.uk
Headway Devon - www.headwaydevon.org.uk
If your healthcare problems relate to children, we also recommend Contact a Family, a charity that puts families struggling with paediatric health issues in touch with each other.
In addition to the groups and charities that concentrate on specific medical conditions and complaints, there are a number that exist to support anyone who has an interest in healthcare generally:
AvMA (Action against Medical Accidents) is an independent charity that prides itself on being "the only organisation working exclusively for the victims of medical accidents". We are one of a limited number of firms who are approved members of AvMA's panel of solicitors.
CDCA (Constructive Dialogue for Clinical Accountability) describes itself as "a charity set up to encourage communication and trust between health professionals and their patients." Michelmores have close links with the organisation, and have acted as their legal advisers.
The Patients Association is a campaigning group that exists "to support patients' rights and to improve healthcare services".
If you want to register your unhappiness at healthcare you have received, but do not necessarily want to launch a legal action, you might like to consider following one of the complaints procedures that are open to you. There are various options, including making a formal complaint and/or approaching the PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) of the NHS Trust under which you received your treatment. We have produced detailed guides to these procedures, which you can find in our Alternatives to Litigation section.
One possible - and very positive - response to encountering difficulties in healthcare is to engage with the NHS on a local or national level. Following recent reforms, NHS bodies are now obliged by law to involve patients in their decision-making activities. If you want to have your voice heard at a local level, you should consider approaching the Patient & Public Involvement (PPI) Forum that oversees the Trust under which you have been treated. In addition, there are a number of national bodies that seek input from users of the NHS. For more information, see our Guide to Regulatory Bodies.