How endemic is negligence within the NHS?
Partner Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp makes a compelling case for improved funding, training and transparency – and against the smokescreen of the ‘compensation culture’…
‘How endemic is negligence within the NHS?’ is a question I have regularly asked myself during 20 years of dealing with medical negligence claims.
It seems that the number of claims is rising, and this is being blamed on the so-called compensation culture. It’s a particular concern for me and my team as we’re dealing with more and more individuals who have entered an NHS hospital seeking – and expecting – quality care and medical treatment. Instead, their lives have been turned upside down – often changed forever.
I’ve seen children who have suffered brain damage at birth. Adults who’ve had wrong limbs amputated. Botched operations. Healthy babies stillborn. And an increasing number of distressing cases involving neglect of care for the elderly. I represent many families at inquests following the death of a loved one in appalling circumstances. Many of those injured as a result of medical accidents are also severely traumatised with profound psychological problems. These can take years to resolve.
And there seems to be a culture of defensiveness on the part of the NHS and its staff. Sometimes in the full knowledge that they’ve committed a serious error. Perhaps it’s human nature – because they’re worried about the personal consequences. Or maybe it’s to save money, ‘cover up’, or hide the ongoing underlying problems within the NHS.
We all make mistakes in our work. However mistakes made by our ‘trusted’ clinicians and nurses can be life-changing or fatal. That’s why they have to train for so long, and why their work has to be not just a job, but a vocation. What is utterly inexcusable, though, are the delays created by NHS insurers and legal representatives in settling cases.
We, as claimant solicitors, are on the front line of this problem. As a former nurse, I’ve seen life from both sides. And I’m tired of slogging through the political battleground of a ‘compensation culture’ which copious research has shown simply does not exist. People are particularly reluctant to make claims against the NHS – it’s very much a last resort.
I’m tired, too, of this smoke-screen being used to take the heat off an obvious, continued lack of funding. Funding needed for training to improve decision-making, quality of care and efficient use of facilities at the ‘sharp end’. Moreover if government proposals for heath-care reform go ahead I foresee, if anything, a rise in the number of medical errors under the new arrangements, rather than a reduction.
Headlines show the NHS paying out increasing millions, and suggest that it’s money going out to people who don’t deserve it. Wrong. This is money that those injured need to get the vital additional rehabilitative care to return to full health. Or, in cases where this is not possible, to adapt to a different lifestyle caused by someone else’s negligence.
Over the last 15 years I have regularly brought together doctors, nurses, midwifes, lawyers and other interested parties to openly discuss issues. In an attempt to generate actions and understanding that focus on the need of the patient – first and foremost – and, where negligence is proved, redress some care.
Our last conference, in November 2011, brought yet more understanding and collaborative working. Those on the ground agree on the problems. These include the need for greater consistency of approach by Trusts, better resources for front line care, earlier interim payments to support the injured person and, of course, fewer mistakes. If there were no negligent mistakes there would be no claims.
Come on, Andrew Lansley. Don’t be yet another minister who takes the route of blame and prevarication. Let’s work together to see the headline change to ‘NHS negligence claims fall dramatically‘.
I believe that it’s achievable without attacking our justice system, which is integral to maintaining and fighting for our rights as individuals.