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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December, 2003, 15:58 GMT
Patients sue decades after care
Doctors need to keep good records
Patients are suing doctors up to 50 years after they received treatment, a survey has found.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) found that in the past 15 years, 557 doctors had been involved in negligence claims with a delay of at least 20 years.

In one cases the estate of a doctor who had died was sued 53 years after the treatment in question.

This claim was discontinued and of the 557 claims made late, only 8% led to compensation being paid out.

However, the MDU said it had paid out more than 3 million in compensation to patients making delayed claims.

In one case a pay-out of 867,000 was awarded to a patient who suffered brain damage following a delay in diagnosing meningitis in the 1950s.

Good records important

Dr John Williamson, MDU senior medical claims handler, said the cases highlighted the need for doctors to keep good records and have them to hand for as long as possible.

"This analysis shows that while doctors being sued for treatment or advice they gave 30 or 40 years previously is not the norm, it is by no means unique.

"Above all, this analysis illustrates the importance of doctors keeping good records - not only as part of good patient care, but because it can help in the event of a claim.

"Receiving a negligence claim is distressing enough for doctors, but to try to remember a case you were involved in 20, 30 or 40 years ago can add to the worry, particularly as most doctors will have seen thousands of patients in the intervening years."

Dr Williamson said as a rule there was a limit of three years from the time a patient was aware of an injury for a claim to be made.

But he added: "This rule only applies to competent adult claimants.

"Children with cerebral palsy after delivery, neurological damage following meningitis or other brain-injured patients do not have such time limits on their claims while they are alive."

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