Protecting the Client’s Interest
In personal injury matters, the Claimant must issue legal proceedings within 3 years of the date of injury, or in Clinical Negligence matters, 3 years from the date of knowledge (when they ought reasonably to have known that they had suffered a significant injury as a result of negligent treatment).
It is of course the professional indemnity insurers of the negligent treating clinicians (Doctors, nurses, paramedics etc.) who pay the damages in successful clinical negligence claims. Therefore, it is important to know (and locate) who holds the chequebook for the potential Defendants in Clinical Negligence matters, or in fact, in any personal injury case.
In cases where the negligent treatment took place at a hospital, the treating clinicians are covered by the professional indemnity insurers of the relevant NHS Trust they work for. The NHS Trusts are generally insured and indemnified by an organisation called NHS Resolution.
However, the scenario in relation to potentially Defendant staff members at GP practices is entirely different.
Although NHS Resolution cover some historical liabilities of GP staff members under The Existing Liabilities Scheme for General Practice (ELSGP), this scheme only covers those individual clinicians who were members of the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) at the time of the incident for which a claim is being made.
Therefore, if there are potential negligent GPs, nurses or paramedic practitioners in a clinical negligence matter, you have to locate them on an individual basis as well as their insurers and liaise with their professional indemnity insurers in relation to your client’s claim. This can be a very difficult task at times.
There may be scenarios where GP practices have a blanket professional indemnity insurance cover in place, to cover all the staff members. Whilst this may be the case now and for the past couple of years, any cases where the negligence occurred in 2018 or earlier are unlikely to have a scenario where a banket insurance cover was in place. I understand that prior to 2018, there was no requirement for GP practices to have a professional indemnity insurance policy in place and each clinician was responsible to have their own indemnity insurance cover.
I am currently instructed by a client who suffered potentially negligent treatment from a GP and a paramedic practitioner in 2017. An informal opinion of a GP expert was sought to confirm initial merits, following a full review of the client’s medical records.
The date of knowledge was in March 2018 and therefore the limitation date was close. I embarked on a painful journey of trying to locate the two potentially negligent individuals and their indemnity insurers, a summary of which is as follows:
- Wrote to the GP practice on 2/3 occasions, to be eventually told both clinicians had left the practice in 2018 and the practice was not aware of their whereabouts or their indemnity insurers
- Internet searches, including Facebook did not provide any meaningful information in relation to these individuals. A search on Linked-In revealed details of the paramedic practitioner. However, despite us sending messages on Linked-In, we did not receive a response.
- The relevant local NHS organisation, Surrey Health and Care Partnership informed that although they oversee GP practices in the area, they do not hold details of individual doctors and directed me to NHS England.
- Contacted the British Medical Association. However, they advised they are a trade union and would not have information as to where a particular GP was practicing. I was directed to the General Medical Council (GMC) - the regulatory body of the GPs.
- GMC informed they only have details of whether a GP is registered and holds a practising certificate. They do not have the GPs’ employment details.
- Contacted NHS England South East. However, they informed they do not hold details of individual GPs and their practices or any details of paramedic practitioners. They directed me to the GMC, who do not hold this information also (as outlined above).
- I then made enquiries regarding an organisation who took over conduct of the GP Practice in 2018 and located them via Companies House and wrote to them, making a request under GDPR for current contact details of the clinicians. They provided an email address for the GP.
- Wrote to the GP and heard from his indemnity provider, the Medical Defence Union (MDU), who agreed a limitation extension for a period of 6 months.
- In the meantime, despite making several enquiries with Surrey NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, I was unable to locate any details in relation to the paramedic practitioner.
- I was directed to search on Heath and Care Professional Council (HCPC) register, which revealed that the individual in question was registered as a paramedic practitioner. However, the HCPC register does not contain any current employment details of individuals. However, the search on the HCPC register did reveal the individual’s middle name and his location, which proved very useful in locating his address details.
- I had been referred back to the MDU (the GP’s indemnity insurers), by the Clinical Commissioning Group, to obtain contact details of the paramedic practitioner.
- The MDU informed that their client (the GP) had an email address, from 2017/2018, for the paramedic practitioner and that the GP would email him asking the paramedic to contact us.
- I contacted an investigator who did some initial searches and located a few individuals in the relevant geographical area with the same name. However, there was only one person with the matching middle name. Therefore, we had located an address and wrote to the paramedic practitioner.
- Three days later (and with just under three weeks prior to the limitation date), we heard from his solicitors representing him and his indemnity insurers, who agreed an extension to the limitation period for 6 months in order for us to commence our investigations.
I suppose in hindsight, I could have instructed an investigator earlier. However, until all the pieces of the jigsaw had come together, namely; I had made the above mentioned enquiries, discovered the HCPC register, conducted a search on the HCPC register and obtained his location and his full name (including middle name), the enquiry agent’s search would have revealed a number of individuals with the same name in the relevant area.
What I found, to my surprise, was that the NHS and the various subsidiary and local organisations which operate under the umbrella of NHS, do not have details of where a particular GP, nurse or a paramedic practitioner would be currently working. Therefore, it may be that you will not locate details of certain individuals, especially if they have retired or stopped practicing for any reason.
However, no matter how much of a lost cause it may be to locate a potential Defendant or how slim the chances of locating their details and their indemnifiers may be, as our client’s legal representatives, we are obliged to act in our client’s best interest and to protect their position and interest, especially in relation to limitation, even it means we have to go the extra mile, or a few extra miles as it turned out here.
Junior Clinical Negligence Solicitor