Useful information about medical or cosmetic negligence claims

You should note that the law in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands may differ from the below. If you believe that your case may fall within one of these jurisdictions please contact the Legal Advice Line for advice.

Index of contents

Time limits

  • Usually you can claim up to 3 years after the negligent treatment itself or, within 3 years of finding out about your injury as a result of the negligent treatment. However, exceptions apply in the case of children or adults with learning difficulties and the time limit may be extended in these cases.

Proving your claim

  • Claims can be complex and take a long time to resolve, they are also often costly.
  • You must prove that the standard of care you received fell below the accepted standard of that of a competent doctor; and
  • That this was what caused your illness / injury; and
  • That you suffered damage or loss as a result of it.
  • Medical negligence can include failing to diagnose a condition, prescribing the wrong medicine or making a mistake during surgery etc.


  • Usually you will require an independent medical expert to support the opinion that the standard of care you received fell below that of a competent doctor.
  • You may need to obtain your medical records which can take up to 40 days and involve a fee.


  • If your complaint relates to treatment carried out by the NHS you can make a complaint to them using their complaints procedure. The first step would be to allow them to investigate your complaint at local level. Should this not resolve the matter, then you could refer your complaint to the relevant Ombudsman (The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in England and Wales and Scottish Public Services Ombudsman in Scotland) and ultimately seek Judicial Review. You should note however that your legal expenses policy will not provide cover for Judicial Review and it can be costly and time consuming.
  • You should make your complaint as soon as possible and, in any event, within 12 months of the incident complained of (please note that this deadline could be shorter in Scotland). It may be possible to extend this timescale if it would have been difficult to complain sooner e.g. if you were grieving or suffering trauma etc.
  • If your complaint is about a private practitioner you can still make your complaint to the practice / individual in question however you will need to refer to their own complaints procedure.
  • If you are seeking compensation for negligent medical treatment then it may be necessary to take separate legal action.


  • Compensation is based on the same considerations as for personal injury claims and can include; pain and suffering, cost of medical treatment, prescription charges etc., adaptations to the home and loss of earnings (both past and present).

Other sources of help

  • The Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) is an independent service which provides free, accessible and confidential advice and support to patients, their carers and families about NHS healthcare. The service is provided by the Scottish CAB Service and you can access it from any Citizens Advice Bureau in Scotland.
  • Officers from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service are available at all hospitals and can offer advice, support and information on health related matters.
  • NHS Complaints Independent Advocacy Service: Individual local authorities have a duty to commission independent advocacy services to provide support for people making, or thinking of making, a complaint about their NHS care or treatment. Arrangements differ by local authority however. Further information can be found by contacting the Patient Advice and Liaison Service for your particular area.

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