Janet McWhinney - head of Health Disputes London at Hill Dickinson – discusses the firm’s health practice, training clients & future plans

Over and above having a good working knowledge of the Law, what other traits do you think a health disputes lawyer should have?
Empathy with injured claimants so that claims are dealt with in a sympathetic manner, with apologies expressed where appropriate, combined with an ability to analyse medical records and often complex expert medical advice to counsel whether the claim should be settled or defended. After some years, the clinical negligence lawyer gets a gut feeling about which claims are defensible and those where a patient should receive compensation.

Can you tell us about your career to date?
I started out training and then qualifying as a barrister in Inner Temple and for a while practised crime, personal injury, land and company law. Then, wanting to specialise in clinical negligence I accepted a role at Hempsons in London representing the NHSLA in clinical claims against hospitals. After almost five years I moved to BLM and for the next 11 years worked on Medical Protection Society and latterly NHSLA claims. I was made a partner in 2010 and in 2014 moved to Hill Dickinson.

Why did Hill Dickinson expand its health practice to London?
Hill Dickinson is widely known and respected for its work in the health sector out of our Liverpool and Manchester offices. However, our client list is already national, with clients such as NHS England, Health Education England and the NHS LA. With a team in London we can further develop a national health presence, as well as entering the London Medical Malpractice and Health markets where most of the key insurers are based, in addition to providing an enhanced service to existing London-based clients.

What is your role at Hill Dickinson?
I was recruited to lead a health disputes team in London, which deals with claims against hospitals and works directly with the NHS LA. We manage high value clinical claims against a number of hospitals. Claims include obstetric birth injuries, spinal and neurological injuries, brain injury resulting from meningitis, urological, gynaecological, orthopaedic and many other injuries. These types of claims often have multi-million pound values, usually due to the claimant requiring life-long nursing care and accommodation.

How important is training to your clients?
Our clients really value the training we provide and I take an active role in organising training and events for current and existing clients as well as presenting talks and lectures on clinical negligence issues. The training we offer to clients assists their teams with efficient management of claims and gives them a better understanding of health law. We provide an introduction to medical claims handling to new joiners and our training sessions directed at trust claims handlers also explain the NHS LA processes and reporting guidelines.

Have you made any key appointments to the team since you joined?
Since my arrival, David Hill and Katie Viggers have joined from Weightmans in London and Alaw Owen and Laura Nazar have transferred from our Liverpool and Manchester teams. Our team continues to expand, in keeping with our client base. There have also been additions in Liverpool and Manchester and so expansion is not limited to the London team.

What are your aims and ambitions for the team?
I want to grow the London health disputes team and develop its reputation as a leader in the field of clinical negligence in London, representing clients both in the private commercial and public sectors. We aim to offer a full service to clients covering health claims, inquests, health advisory and regulatory. For example, often a death can result in an inquest, claim and investigation and it will benefit our clients if the firm can offer the legal expertise to act in all of these areas – a complete one stop shop.

How closely do the offices work together?
Very! The aim is to promote a national team rather than separate regional offices. Andrew Craggs, who has been with Hill Dickinson for eighteen years, has recently been appointed head of health and although his home is in Liverpool he is working across all three offices to build the national profile and recruit key people in strategic roles.

Can you sum up Hill Dickinson in five words?
Growing, confident, approachable, agile and client-focused.

What does the future hold?
I expect to see continued growth as we build upon the recent strides we’ve made. We are looking to deliver an excellent client service and there is always a market for that!