On taking instructions recently from a new Client, he raised a dilemma that I frequently encounter when taking instructions from new Clients. This particular Client had an orthopaedic procedure performed privately under the care of an Orthopaedic Surgeon. However, the day after his surgery, he became acutely ill; he had developed an abdominal problem which was life threatening. His care was transferred to a General Surgeon who operated on him and the surgery saved his life. The Client remains under the care of the General Surgeon and will require further abdominal surgical procedures going forward and more than likely he will require ongoing care from the Surgeon for the rest of his life. The Client was of the opinion that the abdominal problems arose as a result of something negligent that the Orthopaedic Surgeon did during the surgery. Based on the information the Client had given, there was clearly a cause for concern about the standard of care he had received. However, without some investigation, it was not possible for me to advise him on his prospects of success.
I advised the Client that I would need to get in the medical records from the Hospital, the Orthopaedic Surgeon and the General Surgeon. At that point the Client explained that he had a dilemma. The General Surgeon had after all saved his life and he was concerned that a letter from a Solicitors office requesting his records may jeopardise his relationship with the General Surgeon. I informed the Client that in my experience as a Solicitor who acts for patients who have suffered injuries as a result of medical negligence and as a Solicitors who has previously acted for Doctors/Hospitals who were being sued for medical negligence, I had never known a patient’s care to be compromised because they had decided to look for their records. In this particular scenario, the Client clearly had complete and utter trust in the General Surgeon. Therefore, I could appreciate why he was so anxious to preserve that relationship. I reassured him in case he was anxious that the General Surgeon would divulge to the Orthopedic Surgeon that he had been to see a Solicitor. I explained to the Client that the General Surgeon’s professional responsibility to him took priority over his responsibilities to the Hospital where the surgery took place or indeed the Orthopaedic Surgeon. I also explained that he had an absolute entitlement to expect that all his dealings with the General Surgeon would be kept confidential. Therefore, a letter from a Solicitor requesting records would also be protected by the General Surgeon’s duty of confidentiality. In this particular instance, I was able to allay the Client’s fears about his dilemma.
There are however situations in my experience as a medical negligence Lawyer where I believe a Client would have a dilemma in that the Doctor/Patient relationship cannot continue. I believe that the Doctor/Patient relationship is a unique relationship. It is an unbalanced relationship in the sense that a patient has to have complete and utter faith in the Doctor’s professionalism. The patient places their life in to the hands of their Doctor and they trust that the Doctor concerned has the necessary skill and care to treat the particular ailment. If the patient feels that the care they have been provided with is less than optimal, then the essential element of their relationship has broken down and the trust no longer exists. Also, if the Doctor’s behaviour and relationship with the patient is called into question, the essential element of trust will also be violated. In my opinion, it is better for both parties that they part company. I would always advise a Client, if they intend to sue their Doctor, to change their Doctor. Sometimes in Ireland this is easier said than done. For example, in rural parts of the Country where there maybe only one Consultant in a particular area of medicine and the patient’s condition is such that he may require emergency admissions in the local Hospital, then the patient may have no option but to remain as a patient of that Doctor. However, these situations are thankfully rare occurrences. It may be a comfort to read the “Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners” or click on the following link:-
Contact us at Cantillons Solicitors at +353 (0)21 -4275673 or [email protected] if you would like more information.
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