There is an endless amount of work for medical negligence lawyers in Sydney, but if there are so many cases of medical negligence, why are so many people unaware that it is going on right under their noses?
On the ABC’s Radio National program Lorraine Long, the founder of the Medical Error Action Group, described how her organisation would receive up to 50 complaints a day that could be classed as medical error. Estimates have been made that in Australia 18,000 people die each year as a result of medical error, but the lack of medical records and linking of the data means that this number is only an estimate and not a fact. It’s alarming nonetheless. But why are cases not being reported?
Lorraine Long believes that the reason medical negligence is so rarely discussed on a national level is because there is this belief that doctors don’t make mistake, and the way cases of medical negligence are handled is to make sure it’s done as quietly as possible. So why hasn’t anything been done to stop this?
In 1995, the Quality in Australian Health Care Study was presented to the federal government. It claimed that 16.6% of admitted patients suffered from medical negligence, whether it was fatal or lead to some form of disability. Since the release of the study the processes used and the conclusions drawn have been a centre of debate in medical, academic, and political circles. But has there been a change in legislation as a result of this report?
In 2003, Australia became the first country to have a nationwide open disclosure policy. The idea was to get doctors and health services talking honestly and openly with patients if something does go wrong. However, in practice hospitals have been known to make patients sign contracts saying they won’t sue before telling them anything. It can then seem like the only option is to sue to find out what really happened. But is that an option?
Unfortunately, it can be very hard to win a case of medical negligence. The law is clear that you need to have a permanent injury that is deemed as significant – it has to affect more than five per cent of your body. Worryingly, it’s only about three per cent of doctors who are the cause of 50% of reported cases of medical negligence.