Published On: Sun, Jan 26th, 2014

Small Claims Limits Unchanged: Understanding the Current UK Legal Status of Small Claims

Medicine is a complicated field, so doctors are given a lot of leeway when it comes to liability for death and injury. Unfortunately, this leeway may have allowed things to progress too far. A new study suggests that basic errors, those that no doctor should make, are killing 1,000 patients a month in the UK.

Hospital Deaths


Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

Research published in the British Medicine Journal and carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has fond that something goes wrong in about 13% of cases in which a patient dies in hospital. Of course, the error was only responsible for death in 5.2% of these cases, but that still equates to just under 12,000 needless deaths per year.

The problem, it turns out, comes down to lack of fundamentals. The lead researcher in the study found that most of the problems results from simple things like not monitoring blood pressure or kidney function. More importantly, the side effects of drugs were almost completely ignored. These mistakes are not only avoidable, they are unforgivable. In the age of modern computers, when reminders are everywhere and drug interactions are automatically assessed by software, there is no reason to make these mistakes.

The study is actually conservative though. The Department of Health and the National Audit Office estimate that there could be as many 40,000 preventable deaths each year in England alone. No matter which way you slice it, the burden is quite large. So, what should be done?

Honour Thy Error

There are a few errors are the crop up time and time again in medical negligence cases, like the types of cases handled by Irwin Mitchell. Knowing what those errors are and how they can be avoided is the first, best step to ensuring proper care. Here they are, in no particular order.

Side Effects

Medication side effects account for a large portion of adverse medical events. Be diligent about asking doctors about side effects of any medication they prescribe. In addition, be diligent about the potential for interactions between multiple medications that can lead to unusual or unanticipated side effects. There are a number of websites and apps, like Epocrates, that will allow you to check both side effects and drug interactions.


No treatment should be undertaken without clear goals regarding how the treatment should work and how it should be monitored. Ask your doctor to explain why a certain treatment has been chosen and how you will know when it is working. Ask what methods will be used to monitor treatment and what the threshold will be for changing course because a treatment isn’t working.


Many adverse events occur not because of a disease that brings a patient to a hospital, but because of a disease that occurred while in the hospital. Most common on this list are infections and blood clots. There are specific guidelines that are to be followed to prevent adverse outcomes from events like these, so double check that your doctor is following them. In the case of infection, your doctor should be washing his hands and taking necessary contact precautions. A prophylactic antibiotic may even be in order. For blood clots, most people are put on anticoagulant if they will be in the hospital and immobile for more than a few days. Ask your doctor if this prophylactic approach is warranted.

Missed Diagnoses

No doctor knows it all, that is why there are specialists in dozens of different fields. If a diagnosis is reached after a day or two and there is no plan on how to narrow down the potential problems, start asking about specialists. A consultation can help ensure that less common, more obscure problems are not missed.

The Bottom Line

International evidence has indicated that 1 in 10 patients suffers harm as a result of errors in care. Any one of those errors could be deadly or lead to long term debilitation. Don’t take chance with your health. Follow the tips above and be diligent about asking questions. Most importantly, have someone you trust in the hospital with you to ask the necessary questions and be the enforcer when necessary.

David Larson researches law. He enjoys studying changes and their implications for the common citizen.

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