Medical–legal partnerships: 11 years’ experience of providing acute legal advice for critically ill patients and their families
Background: Medical–legal partnerships integrate lawyers into health care to identify and address legal problems that can create and perpetuate disparities in health for patients and their families. They have previously been utilised for patients who are at high-risk of being disadvantaged such as the elderly, the disabled and those affected by chronic diseases. We have used a partnership to address the legal needs of patients with acute, critical illness including major trauma. Method: In 2007, a free, comprehensive legal advice service was established at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. The service is bound by strict guidelines which have been endorsed by NHS England. The legal service is specifically prevented from acting against the NHS. A retrospective analysis of the service over a period of 11 years was undertaken to look at the range of legal advice sought. Where a potential compensation claim against a third party was identified, the percentage of cases where the legal service was instructed was noted and the outcome for those cases was examined in further detail. Results: Five hundred and fifty-one patients and or their families have been referred to the legal service. Of these, 343 had sustained major trauma. Over 2300 hours of free legal advice were provided on non-compensation issues, primarily related to welfare benefits, local authority assistance, obtaining power of attorney or seeking Deputyship from the Court of Protection and claims against existing insurance policies. Two hundred and seventy-five of the 551 patients (50%) were found to have a potential compensation claim against a third party. The legal service was instructed to pursue a claim in 82 cases. Interim payments of nearly £13 million were provided and £128 million of compensation has been awarded in 51 cases that have been settled. Discussion: Medical–legal partnerships are well-established in the USA. We have demonstrated that in UK, there is a demand for early legal advice for patients who have sustained critical illness including major trauma. More data are required to identify the rehabilitation outcomes for patients who have received legal support. A similar medical–legal partnership should be considered at every acute NHS Trust.
1. Eynon CA, Robinson LJ, Smith KM. Medical–legal partnerships: 11 years’ experience of providing acute legal advice for critically ill patients and their families. J Intensive Care Soc. 2020;21(1):40-47. doi:10.1177/1751143719833632