Litigation…keep calm and carry on

The CSP Charitable Trust recently funded research into Cauda Equina Syndrome and litigation in UK physiotherapy

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Findings from a Manchester Metropolitan University team are being shared and the CSP is committed to acting on the recommendations and improving on the support we offer members who find themselves the subject of a clinical negligence claim. 

The research showed that physiotherapists do not understand the litigation process, who to ask for help, and what the implications of litigation are on their practice. Let’s be clear, litigation is not a personal attack on you. Do be reassured, 90 per cent of potential clinical negligence cases are dropped and never proceed.  

The research also showed that physiotherapists respond very differently to receiving a claim compared with doctors, taking the process much more personally and with high percentages of respondents describing very high levels of stress and anxiety, inability to sleep, to eat properly and in some cases function. 

Perhaps this is due to the unknown. Perhaps it’s because as a profession we don’t talk about it openly enough. Perhaps we are all missing opportunities to learn from litigation cases. However, one thing is certain, additional accountability for our practice goes hand in hand with the profession evolving to work in more advanced roles, with greater complexity in more unpredictable environments. This is likely to result in more litigation cases. To avoid a significant emotional response and harm to our wellbeing, learning from litigation and learning about the process is essential.

I felt sick, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t settle…..I had to go on high blood pressure tablets for a time…I got gastric reflux… it affected my appetite.

What do I do?  

So, what should you do if you receive a claim letter? Firstly, don’t panic. This is why you have professional liability insurance (PLI). You do not need to find your own lawyer. Your home is not at risk. You don’t have to inform the Health and Care Professions Council. The litigation process is completely separate to regulatory fitness to practice proceedings.  

So, breathe. What to do when you receive the letter will depend on whether you are employed or whether you are self-employed or a sole practitioner.  

If you are employed, whether that is in the NHS or in a non-NHS organisation, it is your employer who you should go to for support and legal representation around the claim. 

I lost sleep over it. I was just distraught really to be honest. It was really harrowing….for two years. Just the anxiety of remembering it, just awful.

(Quotes from physiotherapists with experience of litigation).

We at the CSP can talk you through the process and what to expect. We are also looking to set up a buddying or mentoring platform, as learning from this research we understand that we can do more to support the potential emotional impact of a litigation claim. We recognise that we can provide better information for you about the process, and we will do this, as well as looking to link you up with a peer who has lived experience of a litigation claim.  

If you are a CSP member who is self-employed or a sole practitioner, you will be covered by our CSP PLI (subject to the terms and conditions of the policy). The CSP, through James Hallam our brokers, will support you. Firstly, you must fill out a PLI claims notification form. James Hallam will take you through what happens next. They work with Kennedy’s, a specialist clinical negligence law firm, so you will have qualified solicitors managing the legal defence of the claim for you, and they will also support you throughout the process. The research showed that members spoke highly of the support and guidance given in such cases.   

The CSP website contains updated information. The Manchester Metropolitan University research team have created a valuable infographic and an animation which explains the process and provide reassurance.

Clinical negligence claims against physiotherapists, however uncommon, do occur. We want to use this study’s research findings to better support members, to help reduce the emotional impact for an individual and encourage a sharing of learning from litigation which will support the development of practice.

Sara Conroy is a CSP professional adviser

Professional Advice team

The CSP’s Professional Advice Service gives advice and support to members on complex and specialist enquiries about physiotherapy practice, including professional practice issues, standards, values and behaviours, international working, service design and commissioning, and policy in practice.

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