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In the Alternative?

posted 3 years ago

Many lay people purport to have the “gift of healing” or “special potions” and often appeal to a gullible population, who are looking for a “quick fix”. At the end of the day, some of these therapies work – in which case they are medicinal; or they do not, and sometimes cause considerable harm.

What happens when a patient is harmed by such therapy?

The case involves a “cryotherapist”, who, as a treatment for chronic foot pain, utilised liquid nitrogen mist.

After the third such therapy to a foot, spread out over several weeks, the foot became itchy and tender, and a punctate rash appeared. The rash started to peel, and the patient was unable to wear any shoes because she could not stand pressure in the area. It took three months for the skin to settle down, and the patient was left with some permanent discolouration of the skin in the area that had been subject to the treatment.

The patient had signed a form indicating her own past medical history but was never given any information about the treatment itself, apart from being told it was an excellent method of managing chronic pain.

When such a patient has been treated by a member of a professional body and difficulties occur, there is redress. For instance, in a case where a patient was burned during a course of heat treatment administrated by a physiotherapist, even though this was carried out in a manner approved by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, the court found that warnings alone were an inadequate safeguard for the patient.

What happens when someone is not a member of a professional body and claims to be a “healer”, but is of no professional standing. Against what standard are they to be judged?

The duty of care in this scenario goes right back to the initial Stevenson case, with a duty of care towards your neighbour not to make promises or indulge in any practice that is liable to bring your neighbour to harm.

This case opens up wider questions about unregulated “therapies”, particularly when the promises made may stop a patient from seeking proper medical management of a condition that may otherwise be amenable to therapy.

MDU figures for 2020 show that fewer than one in six actions in medical negligence actually succeed, with the vast majority failing on the grounds of causation. It must be remembered that subsequence is not the same as consequence.

Initial screening is therefore essential to manage client expectations at an early stage. This avoids unnecessary effort and costs for all concerned. Too many cases are taken to Court with no chance of success. This is stressful for both the client and their legal adviser, and indeed for the medical personnel involved.

For fast and effective screening of all potential medical negligence cases, contact Peyton Medico Legal Services now on +44 (0)28 87724177 or email [email protected]


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