I felt broken after a clinical negligence complaint
Intended for healthcare professionals
Opinion Previous     Next

I felt broken after a clinical negligence complaint

An accusation about my nursing practice blighted my life. Now I want to help others break this dangerous taboo

As a nurse, the idea of anyone imagining you would harm a patient seems to me unthinkable. The thought of hurting someone through your actions is sickening. We go into nursing to do good and make a difference. We want to be there at times when people need us the most and help them through.

Nursing Management. 31, 1, 10-11. doi: 10.7748/nm.31.1.10.s4

Published: 01 February 2024

Anonymous

The author is an advanced nurse practitioner who worked in general practice until 2022

Being a nurse is what makes me who I am. But last year my world stopped when a patient complained about the care I gave, and sought to bring a clinical negligence claim against me.

I had recently relocated and was settling into my job at a new practice when it happened. While waiting for my next patient one morning, I received an email from NHS Resolution, forwarded by my previous boss, confirming that a complaint had been made about me and was now being pursued legally by a patient.

I was dumbstruck. My heart began racing. I couldn’t see straight.

Statement of response

When I rang the contact number on the email, the basics of the claim were explained to me and I was told I needed to write a statement of response, stating what had happened in the consultation in question, which was two years ago. Shaking uncontrollably, I walked out of work, making an excuse to my manager, and drove home in a daze.

nm_v31_n1_4_0001.jpg

Picture credit: iStock

I had so many emotions: anger, fear, embarrassment, shame, terror. I needed to figure out who to speak to – did I need to tell the Nursing and Midwifery Council? Did I need to tell my new boss? How could I continue to practise as normal when this was looming over me?

I felt so alone. I cried for days. I was ashamed to tell my husband, my family, my colleagues. When I spoke to my GP, it was even hard to tell her what was happening – I was worried about giving a bad impression to another healthcare professional.

Even though it had not been proved that I had actually done anything wrong, I felt like the existence of the claim threw a shadow of doubt over my clinical integrity.

Union guidance

My union gave me useful guidance to help me to write my statement. I went over the day of the consultation again and again, writing notes, trying to ensure I didn’t miss the tiniest detail. Luckily my clinical notes were very good, which helped my case.

When I received the full details of the complaint against my old practice, in which I was the only named person, my solicitor felt we had good grounds to dispute the entire claim. The thought of going to court terrified me, but I still strongly felt I was in the right, so we agreed to dispute.

I didn’t feel I could work as a clinical nurse at this time – I had lost trust in my patients and my confidence was gone – so I lined up a job in a non-clinical role as I had to pay the bills. I wasn’t required to mention the case to them, so they didn’t know about it.

It felt like I was two different people, wearing my ‘happy work persona’ mask in the office, then coming home and feeling completely broken.

Needing normality

Throughout the process, my mental health was put under immense strain. I had always thought I was good at taking care of myself, but this experience tested me to the extreme. I have had to learn to give myself permission to practise self-care, especially on days when I just wanted to wallow in self-pity.

‘How could I continue to practise as normal when this was looming over me?’

At other times, I have had to motivate myself to take part in activities and social events that I desperately didn’t want to go to because I knew I needed that ‘normality’ – even if I felt like I was hiding my true self behind a mask of smiles and idle chit-chat.

‘Everyone hopes something like this won’t happen, but I am proof that it does. I urge you to be prepared in case it happens to you’

I didn’t want to talk about it even with my husband and parents. I felt ashamed in case I had done something wrong and deserved all this. I have panic attacks now, something that has never happened to me before, and even had moments of feeling suicidal. I have had dark times, but I sought professional help and have been given medication and the psychological support I need to help me manage daily life.

Everyone hopes something like this won’t happen, but I am proof that it does. I would urge you, my fellow nurses, to be prepared in case it happens to you, and to work on building up your mental strength, which is something I wish I had done.

Healthcare pressures

In the current financial climate, with such tremendous healthcare pressures and an increasingly litigious culture, it feels like the likelihood of similar legal actions is growing.

When it happened to me, I fell apart. Fourteen years after qualifying, having studied for a master’s and a non-medical prescribing qualification to become an advanced nurse practitioner, I left the NHS job that I loved because of the fear that it might happen again. And I cannot see myself ever returning to clinical practice.

If it happens to you, don’t be like me and try to deal with it on your own: seek help, talk to people. It may feel like a taboo subject but try not to be ashamed. Your colleagues will support you. And make sure you document everything. My documentation saved me.

My case was ultimately dropped by the patient following a lengthy investigation by NHS Resolution, which fully supported my stance that I had done nothing wrong, but I will never be the same again. I’m now a stronger person, but I’m a broken nurse.

I have spoken to a select few colleagues about my case, many of whom have opened up about similar issues or complaints that they too never speak off. We need to bring these conversations out into the open. It could happen to any of us, so for all our sakes, we need to break this taboo.

The author can be contacted at heartbrokennurse@aol.com

Share this page