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Wednesday, September 29, 1999 Published at 19:24 GMT 20:24 UK


'Curb medical law advertising'

More law firms advertise in hospitals

The Law Society should tighten up its rule on how members advertise following concern over a sharp increase in the number of medical negligence cases, campaigners have said.

BBC Health Reporter Karen Allen examines the issue
Action for Victims of Medical Accidents (AVMA) says guidelines should be revised to make sure patients are directed to the right kind of legal advice.

The legal aid bill is now approaching £1.6bn a year, most of that going on lawyers' fees.

The AVMA fears that unscrupulous lawyers might try to cash in on the growth area by targeting vulnerable patients.

Growing mistrust

Cases such as the Bristol heart babies scandal and mistakes in cervical smear tests at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital have raised concerns about the competency of the medical profession.

[ image: Ann Alexander: More cases]
Ann Alexander: More cases
Lawyers say there are more cases because the public is finding more reasons to sue - although doctors say few procedures are 100% safe and patients are too willing to take legal action.

They fear the UK will become as litigious a society as the US.

Ann Alexander, a clinical negligence lawyer, said: "There is a greater expectation among the public that they should be entitled to the best standard of care when they go into hospital instead of a reasonable standard of care - which is the legal test."

No need for blame

However, doctors' defence bodies say too many cases are getting to court when all many patients want is an apology.

[ image: Arnold Simanowitz is concerned about quality of advice]
Arnold Simanowitz is concerned about quality of advice
"Just because something has gone wrong doesn't mean it's sombody's fault," Dr Gerard Panting of the Medical Protection Society said.

"What we need to do is look at the consumerist nature and ask 'how do we turn that consumerism into a relationship?'"

The increased role lawyers play in the medical world is nowhere more apparent than at hospitals where appointment cards are sponsored by local law firms.

Although there is nothing illegal in this, Arnold Simanowitz, of AVMA, was concerned about the quality of information provided in such advertisements.

[ image: Robert Sayer says lawyers behave themselves]
Robert Sayer says lawyers behave themselves
"I don't know whether - particularly from a clinical negligence point of view - advertising is making sure that patients get to the right solicitor in the right circumstances," he said.

But Robert Sayer, president of the Law Society, said his members would behave with integrity.

"We have controls - our members must exercise good taste they must be honest they must exercise proper discretion," he said.

"We are a profession after all and I would expect our members to behave like professionals."

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