The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry Report was published on 5th February 2013. In the weeks since this comprehensive review by Robert Francis QC, which told of the appalling suffering of many patients and their families at Stafford Hospital, there have been other reports that suggest that this was not a one off but a story that may be replicated in many NHS Trusts.
I have been a Clinical & Medical Negligence Solicitor for 15 years and sadly the stories documented in the report of patients and their families suffering were not unfamiliar to me, however shocking they remain. If the wider public, those fortunate enough to not experience at first hand the failings in the NHS, are made aware of what is the reality for the victims of Medical Negligence, it will be a turning point.
Fortunately most patients experience the best of the NHS. However too often people unaffected by medical negligence do not believe that such poor care occurs and Clinical Negligence Solicitors such as myself are branded as ambulance chasers, or lawyers seeking to take money from the NHS.
What my clinical negligence clients want is help to achieve a truthful explanation of what went wrong and the ability to carry on with their lives without the financial disadvantage that the loss of a loved one or a permanent is disability causes. Compensation in clinical negligence seeks only to put the patient back into the position that they would have been in, and not to profit. Compensation is never awarded to punish the Trusts but is carefully calculated so each pound claimed is accounted for.
Only shortly before the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry was published more NHS trusts, were identified as having higher than expected death rates over a period of several years. These included three in the North West where I have been a lawyer throughout my career. Closest to home Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, is responsible for Tameside Hospital in Greater Manchester, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, responsible for Blackpool Victoria Hospital, community hospitals and rehabilitation units, and East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Royal Blackburn Hospital, Burnley General Hospital, and a community hospital. The Trusts beyond the Northwest included Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust.
In the Telegraph, 6th March 2013 concerns about the standard of reporting of death rates at Royal Bolton Hospital which is responsibility of Royal Bolton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were raised. The newspaper reported that ‘as many as half of patients recorded as having blood poisoning at the Royal Bolton Hospital in 2011/12 may have in fact suffered from less serious conditions’. The concern appeared to arise from an independent report of Dr Foster, as septicaemia was coded in a different way to other illnesses. As a result deaths from septicaemia had less impact on the hospitals mortality figures. Dr Jackie Bene who was the acting medical director at the Trust stepped aside following these concerns. Dr Bhatiani a local GP who represents the Bolton NHS clinical commissioning group (CCG), which pays for many hospital services explained that “The final report confirms that clinical coding of sepsis is of concern". "This report looked at the quality of the coding process; we now need medical input to understand how and why this happened, and to understand if the coding was clinically appropriate.”
In The Sunday Times on 10th March 2013 it was reported that Health Minsters have ordered and independent inquiry about University Hospitals of Morecambe bay NHS foundation Trust which runs 5 hospitals including Furness General Hospital.
The Sunday Times reported that from 2007 the Trust death rates have been rising rapidly and by 2011 it had the highest death rate in the country suggesting also that data between 2008 and 2012 demonstrated that more than 500 people died unnecessarily in the hospitals managed by that Trust.
We must ask just how open and honest is the NHS system we have? When so frequently Trusts make the news for the wrong reasons.
The current health secretary Jeremy Hunt said that “If NHS Trusts are caught deliberately manipulating that information, whether waiting times or death rates, they need to be held to account”.
There may be good news if the report by the Daily Telegraph that NHS managers and hospital Trusts could be held criminally liable is correct. But patients who are let down, the families of those who die, don’t want criminal liability they want better care, from an NHS system where checks and balances prevent the sort of system failures seen at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Over the past decade and a half many bereaved families have told me how they have been appalled by the lack of care offered to their relatives when they are at their most vulnerable, ill, weak, unable to feed themselves and entirely reliant on those caring for them in hospital.
Laura Morgan is a Clinical & Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
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