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Medical negligence » The bolam test


Unfortunately, medical negligence occurs every day in UK hospitals and there are believed to be almost a million occurrences every year. Around one in ten patients are believed to suffer further as a result of their treatment in hospital and a proportion of these people will go on to claim personal injury compensation through a medical negligence claim.

The legal principles surrounding medical negligence are more complex than those in other areas of personal injury law because of the nature of the subject. For example, the causation of an injury is usually very obvious in a case centring on a car accident, whilst the correctness of the decision to treat a patient in a certain way is much less clear cut.

One of the most important legal principles that affect medical negligence claims is that of the Bolam test, which has been in use for almost fifty years.

The Bolam test

When proving a case of medical negligence, it must be shown that there is a duty of care between the doctor or nurse and the patient. Successfully proving this point is usually very straightforward because medical professionals always have a duty to care for the person that they are treating.

However, what must next be proven is whether the act or omission of the doctor or nurse breached thi duty of care. This is a more complex point, which was examined in the 1957 case of Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee.

It was decided in this medical negligence case that there is no breach of standard of care if a responsible body of similar professionals support the practice that caused the injury.

When making a decision as to how to (or whether to) treat a patient, a doctor often has more than one choice. The result in the Bolam case stated that even if the doctor chose the least popular of these choices, it was did not necessarily amount to medical negligence if support could be found for it.

However, this ruling meant that a doctor accused of medical negligence needed only to find an expert who would testify to having done the same thing. Over the year, the Bolam test sustained significant criticism for being overly reliant on medical testimony.

The Bolitho test

The decision in Bolitho v City and Hackney Health Authority (1997) created a modification to the ruling in Bolam. A Lord Browne-Wilkinson gave the following two statements, which somewhat restrict the boundaries of the Bolam test:

1. The court should not accept a defence argument as being reasonable, respectable or responsible without first assessing whether such opinion is susceptible to logical analysis.

2. However, where there is a body of medical opinion which represents itself as reasonable, responsible or respectable it will be rare for the court to be able to hold such opinion to be other than represented.

This Bolitho ruling means that testimony for the medical professional who is alleged to have carried out the medical negligence can be found to be unreasonable, although this will only happen in a very small number of cases.

Getting medical negligence compensation

If you believe that your treatment in hospital or by a GP or nurse was negligent and caused you personal injury, we may be able to help you to claim compensation. We understand that you may well be upset by the experience so we make it as straightforward and stress-free as possible for you to get personal injury compensation through HappyClaim.

Our panel of personal injury solicitors are experts in medical negligence, having helped many thousands of people to get compensation for their injuries. Their exceptional skill can be seen in the fact that they are successful in the vast majority of the cases that they handle.

They have detailed knowledge of a range of medical negligence areas, including orthopaedic injuries, neo-natal conditions, surgical errors and injuries sustained in Accident and Emergency.

If you would like to find out more about getting medical negligence compensation with HappyClaim, please telephone 01582 437070, send us a call back request or fill in an online claim form with your details.