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How Can the NHS Reduce the Size of its Clinical Negligence Bill?

In a previous blog I wrote in August 2012, I correctly predicted that the number of clinical negligence claims reported to the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) would rise from the 9,143 claims brought against the NHS in 2011/2012.

You can read this blog here.

At present, the UK Government estimates it will have to pay out a staggering £26.6 billion for clinical negligence claims against the NHS in England.

The estimate represents a 69% increase compared to 2009/10 when there were 6,652 claims. The number of clinical negligence claims has risen steadily since then, with an unprecedented 11,945 new claims reported in 2013/14, representing an 80% rise.

So how can we reduce this figure? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that NHS Trusts need to do more to learn from their mistakes. The first step in learning from such errors is to acknowledge that something has gone wrong. NHS Trusts have by and large failed to develop a ‘no blame culture’ which means that mistakes are always under-reported.

The Slater and Gordon Medical Negligence team see the same mistakes repeated time and again. These include among others, failing to note and manage developing sepsis, mistakes in interpreting x-rays and scans, surgical errors, administrative failures, etc. Sadly, the list goes on and on.

It is important that Trusts never underestimate the power of simply saying sorry. Many patients approach us seeking redress because firstly, they’ve yet to receive any kind of acknowledgement that failings in their care ever took place, and secondly, they’ve yet to receive a single apology for an error that can often have hugely life-changing consequences.

Patients are entitled to honesty and openness. Sometimes Trusts will apologise for trivial errors but ignore that any kind of major blunder took place. I’ve lost count of the number of NHS complaint responses I’ve read which are nothing short of cover-ups.

It is crucial the NHS stops wasting money on fighting hopeless cases. If people are entitled to damages, to put it bluntly, pay them. Virtually all the cases I have settled in the last six months have settled within a month of trial, by which time the costs have been significant.

These include a serious brain injury a young woman suffered with damages exceeding £2m, a foot amputation, a lower leg amputation, and a vaginal tear which caused permanent bowel incontinence.

These were all seriously disabled people who were struggling to live with appalling conditions that were entirely preventable had they received the proper healthcare they were rightly expecting. The NHS wastes far too much money simply trying to make it as difficult as possible for some patients to recover the recompense to which they are entitled.

In his first major post-election speech, David Cameron has renewed his vow to boost NHS funding and increase budgets by at least £8 billion a year by 2020.

Any increase in funding is naturally welcome. However, there has been very little detail on how exactly HM Government plans to deliver additional care when the NHS is facing a £30 billion funding gap and the service is struggling to cope with a chronic shortage of GPs and hospital doctors, especially in acute and emergency medicine.

The £8 billion Mr Cameron has pledged will at present, only help to keep existing services running and it is therefore crucial the NHS receives urgent additional funding to address the fact that it is seriously struggling to recruit enough senior medical staff to ensure quality 24-hour care is available to all.

Paul Sankey is a Principal Clinical and Medical Negligence Lawyer at Slater and Gordon UK.

If you or a member of your family suffered from negligent treatment in hospital, call our Medical Negligence Solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we will call you.

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