Is it ethical to sue the National Health Service?
The National Health Service (NHS) was created out of the ideal that a good standard of healthcare should be freely available to all, regardless of wealth. When the then Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan launched the NHS it was based on three core principles:
- That it meet the needs of everyone
- That it be free at the point of delivery
- That it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay
But, if something was to go wrong with medical treatment received from the NHS, is it ethical to sue?
Some will argue that suing the NHS is wrong both morally and financially. After all, medical staff are only human and everyone makes mistakes at one time or another. But on the other hand, if a person is treated negligently affecting their quality of life and rendering them unable to work, should they not receive support from those that caused the injury?
It is important to remember that the National Health Service do not pay compensation unless negligence can be proved meaning that a medical professional body would have acted in a way that other members of their profession would condemn as below the acceptable level of competence and that such actions directly lead to injury or damage of the complainant as a result.
In reality, the people who sue the NHS just want their lives to return to the way it was prior to the negligence. Of course, if successful they will receive a financial award but the award given will not put the complainant in any better position than before the negligent treatment. In practice, the complainant will not benefit financially from what has happened to them. In most cases people just don’t want what they have experienced happening to others.
A civil claim can often be the only way to find out what really happened and instigate change for the better. The NHS often does not investigate when things go wrong so future improvements are often made thanks to patients that sue. We often get Letters of Apology explaining how improvements will be made in future, but generally only after litigation.
I am of the opinion that if a professional medical body treats a patient negligently meaning that they can no longer look after themselves or loved ones, they should be entitled to sue the organisation at fault for compensation.