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Working with children


Suing doctors for their mistakes
Harold Lambert Physician
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I doubt if I would have got away with, what would it have been, 38 years of medicine or something without being sued nowadays and it is more the culture, that's quite true and some of them are unforgivable things, in any culture. Somebody's been terribly, terribly careless or done an overtly wrong thing. I don't think doctors should be exempt from that, but, as people have said repeatedly, both writing and saying: a lot of it comes back to that misunderstanding business. Has anybody talked through the problem enough? Now, I know that certain patients or patients' relatives, however much it's discussed with them, will still go out, go out saying: I'm going to sue this chap, but many cases you see there's been a chain of lack of contact, which has gradually accumulated into something which gets to the law. I'm not very keen on it, both because I'm on the doctors' side, basically being a doctor, and also because it costs a lot of money to the health service. And some are overtly money-making things, but you have to say a lot of them are. There are some I, I mean, particularly about brain damage following encephalitis or meningitis when I do really wonder where the truth lies and where... well, I don't know if you feel this, but sometimes you read and you think there but for the grace of God go I.

[Q] Yes. Yes.

You think that's a series of mistakes, which without being particularly careless or particularly stupid, you could perfectly well have made yourself.

[Q] Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

So, but there is more of it. I, I don't actually know how a, say, an obstetrician could get away without being sued these days, there's so much of it going around.

British doctor Harold Lambert (1926-2017) spent his career tackling infectious diseases, helping in the development of pyrazinamide as an effective treatment for tuberculosis. He also published work on the rational use of antibiotics and was a trustee and medical advisor for the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Listeners: Roger Higgs

Roger Higgs was an inner city GP for 30 years in south London, UK, and is Emeritus Professor of General Practice at Kings College London, where he set up the department.

He gained scholarships in classics at Cambridge but changed to medicine after a period of voluntary work in Kenya in 1962. He was Harold Lambert's registrar for 18 months in the early 1970s, the most influential and exciting episode in his hospital training. He set up his own practice in 1975. He helped to establish medical ethics as a practical and academic subject through teaching, writing and broadcasting, and jointly set up the 'Journal of Medical Ethics' in 1975.

His other work included studies in whole person assessment and narrative in general practice and development work in primary medical care: innovations here included intermediate care centres, primary care assessment in accident and emergency departments, teaching internal medicine in general practice and establishing counselling services in medicine.

He was made MBE in 1987 for this development work and now combines bioethics governance, teaching and writing with an arts based retirement.

Tags: misunderstandings, law, patients, mistakes, doctors

Duration: 1 minute, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008