Volunteering for AvMA – a formidable resource and important helpline for so many

Jodi Newton

Table of Contents

Early in my career as a clinical negligence solicitor, AvMA, quickly caught my attention. AvMA is a charity and is an acronym for action against medical accidents. AvMA provides free, independent advice and support to people affected by medical accidents or breaches of patient safety. Its support is via a number of different platforms. They offer a specialist helpline open every weekday and manned usually by specialists with high quality training. They also offer the support of their own case workers and with inquests. Their website offers a number of self-help guides, as well as a “find a solicitor” directory, to signpost the public to one of their panel solicitors who cover almost every corner of the country.

It is a formidable resource for those who are in need of neutral and expert information on navigating what can be a devastating and life-changing loss or injury. There are a range of options open to victims and their families whether that be in making a complaint, seeking disciplinary action or pursuing a claim in the civil courts for financial compensation. AvMA also has a pro bono inquest service.

AvMA has furthermore carefully co-ordinated a specialist panel of solicitors who have gained special recognition via AvMA’s accreditation scheme for which panel solicitors have worked very hard and are rightfully via their panel membership, considered the leading practitioners in this field and who are best placed to guide those seeking assistance.

Being a charity volunteer

Over 2011-2012, I volunteered to work on the call-line. I travelled to their office in Croydon twice a month to take telephone calls, after completing AvMA’s thorough training. The call-line was always busy and it was heartening to see that the public felt that AvMA was a safe place to turn to in what was for some, their darkest hour. Whilst volunteering, I always remembered that I am there to listen first, understand their situation and then advise and guide. I came to know the AvMA employees well from working side by side with them in person. Their kindness and dedication to the work that they do very much came alive, working in the beating heart of their office.  Their patience with what can be very complex cases and particularly sensitive callers stood out, as did their capacity for compassion. I was very proud to work with them and help deliver their goal of supporting those who were unfortunate enough to need our services.

With the COVID-19 crisis challenging us all and wanting to make a difference to the world, Osbornes Law wanted to reach out and work to support charities close to the work that we do. My colleague, Stephanie Prior, has been an AvMA panel solicitor since 2001, and we both have an extensive history working with them. It seemed like one way in which I could make a difference.

I therefore contacted AvMA to ask to become a volunteer again. The working world has changed considerably, since 2012, when I last volunteered, and they now are able to accommodate volunteers who are unable to travel to their headquarters. They operate an impressive virtual call centre enabling volunteers to receive calls wherever they are. I received refresher training and am now set up to volunteer weekly on the call-line, which is busier than ever.

Callers to the AvMA helpline

The nature of the calls varies and has come from those who have lost loved ones, need support with inquests, have internal investigations being carried out by a hospital, surgery which has gone wrong, and misdiagnosis. The list is non-exhaustive but these are examples of the types of calls I have taken in recent weeks.

People seem to be reaching out to AvMA more than ever, being effectively trapped at home, bewildered by the complaints system, and unsure who to reach out to. Demystifying the overwhelming and intimidating options is at the heart of my advice. It reminds me that far more often than not, patients rarely understand that they have rights when it comes to standards and safety.

I am always mindful that making that first call must be a difficult and emotional experience as is sharing very personal and traumatic stories. It is a delicate conversation and requires a huge amount of focus, the right tone, and ultimately, trying to achieve the objective that the caller has come away feeling lighter, understanding their rights, and equipped with the courage, comfort, and support to decide what is best for them to do next.

I find my volunteer work interesting, rewarding and I enjoy the responsibility in being on the front-line to apply my knowledge to real-life situations which comes in limitless shapes and sizes.

Providing important support for patients

The team at AvMA are so helpful, upbeat, empathetic and on the cutting edge of the latest developments in patient safety, tirelessly campaigning for improvements to patient safety. The media has not always painted a fair picture in recent months when it comes to legal representation for those in need of help having suffered harm in a medical setting. I would not want the public to feel inhibited in seeking help and asking important questions. AvMA however have not shied away from this very issue and have rightly spoken up about the rights of patients, when others have been reticent.

It is privilege to continue to represent AvMA and to support such a worthwhile cause.

Blog post written by Jodi Newton, Associate Solicitor, Medical Negligence team.


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