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Paul Sankey on Waiting Lists: The Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences dictates that for every wise and well-intentioned action there is a bizarre, unintended and unexpected consequence.
The idea of introducing targets for the length of NHS waiting lists may have seemed wise and well-intentioned. And it has been very popular, particularly with people approaching their fourth (and final) hour in Accident and Emergency. However one of the unintended consequences has been that to meet the target patients may be seen by someone even if they are not treated, so that an administrator somewhere can tick a box and enter the statistic on the computer. Money is spent on people who achieve very little in the way of clinical care but instead keeps the layers of bureaucracy healthy.
I am seeking damages for negligent medical care for a man who was the victim of the law of unintended consequences. He injured his knee playing football, rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), one of the ligaments stabilising the knee. A well-meaning doctor referred him for surgery and managed to get him to the operating theatre only about 3 weeks after his injury, much earlier than is normal. Because the man was still in a lot of pain with a very swollen and stiff knee and was anxious to get back to work, he was delighted.
However 3 operations later his knee is still stiff and extremely painful. When he was eventually referred to a specialist knee surgeon, the specialist explained that he had been treated by a generalist who rushed him to surgery because the department was under pressure to get its waiting lists down. By operating on a knee which was still stiff and swollen, the result was never going to be good (although the statistics for quick treatment looked good). It may seem counter-intuitive but sometimes it is better to watch and wait: fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
My client, who had previously played professional football and then had a very active job, may now be facing a lifetime of pain and unemployment, another victim of the law of unintended consequences.Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, fill in our short online claim form or email and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.