Mental health patients are more vulnerable than other patients in that they tend to see a wider range of specialists – GPs, counsellors, mental health practitioners, psychiatrists, social workers and hospital staff. Because they see a wider range of specialists, unfortunately, it is more likely that something will slip through the net. Because individuals with mental health problems may also have difficulty in communicating, this can make them even more vulnerable. Although every patient in the country is entitled to the same standard of care, regardless of their mental health status, occasionally the standard of their care can fall below par.
Mental health patients are already very vulnerable, and if the duty of care towards them fails – for example, if a doctor fails to diagnose a serious mental illness, if a psychiatrist fails to use the appropriate techniques to help the patient cope with their illness, if a hospital worker fails to detain a seriously mentally ill patient or if a GP fails to prescribe the right medication for a mentally ill patient. In all of these situations, the medical professional failed in their duty of care towards the patient and therefore, a medical negligence claim can be made.
When it comes to the care of mentally ill patients, doctors have to be especially sensitive in their duty of care. Because mentally ill individuals are more vulnerable, if someone fails in their duty of care towards them, this could lead to a serious deterioration of their mental health and in severe situations, this could lead to self-harm, suicide or even to the patient harming others. It could also lead to the development of a different mental health condition, or to the worsening of an existing mental health condition which could cause a secondary condition. For example, if a patient has schizophrenia, but this fails to be diagnosed or it goes untreated, this could lead to depression.
In this situation, in order to successfully make a claim, the claimant must be able to prove that the worsening of their condition (or the condition of the person that they are making the claim on behalf of) was directly caused by the negligence of the medical practitioner – and that their condition would not have worsened naturally without the intervention of the doctor. If an individual with mental health problems died as a direct result of medical negligence, it may be that someone else can make a claim for compensation on their behalf – for example, their husband or wife, or their mother or father.
If you want more information about mental health and making a claim for medical negligence, speak to a solicitor specialising in medical negligence claims.