Fast-track deal for hospital notes

CLAIMS for damages brought following the injury of hospital patients look set to be speeded up by a Law Society proposal to simplify discovery of medical records.

Lawyers acting for personal injury and medical negligence claimants will be able to obtain copies of hospital notes by simply exchanging forms with the authorities involved.

The system will replace the lengthy and expensive process which requires continuous correspondence between the parties and applications to court.

A Law Society working party – which included lawyers for plaintiffs, defendants and hospital representatives – has produced forms for the parties to apply and respond.

Richard Vallance, a member of the working party, said: “In order to get medical records and medical negligence actions, it was too often necessary to go through a long procedure.

“There was concern that it was costing the legal aid fund and plaintiffs a huge amount.”

Vallance, a partner with Compton Carr, added: “It will be a simple matter of the application being made and the records being sent out.”

Keith Miles, director of the campaign group Action for Victims of Medical Accidents, has welcomed the Law Society initiative.

“In general terms, access to medical records is still one of the major problems in investigating a case. If you can't get hold of them, matters can be held up dreadfully.”

The forms, which have been approved by the Department of Health for NHS and trust hospitals, can be used for either personal injury or medical negligence cases.

Vallance said their use was voluntary and did not prejudice either side's statutory rights under the Access to Health Records Act, the Data Protection Act or the Supreme Court Act. But he added: “The idea is to cut through the strict statutory requirements.”

For forms send an SAE to Shirley Knight, Law Society Services, 50 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1SX.