Recent data released by the Department of Health reports that the financial cost of clinical negligence claims runs to a total of £83bn. Whilst the accuracy of these figures will be based on data held by the NHS, and therefore is likely to be correct, are they mere soundbites for the news or an honest reflection of the impact of clinical negligence claims?

It is an unavoidable fact of life that mistakes happen, despite the best intentions of those involved. High-profile cases, such as the injuries sustained at Alton Towers in June 2015, demonstrate that whilst safety procedures may be in place, these can fail, with life-changing consequences.

In 2018, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care, rightly commented that “Prevention is better than cure”. This applies equally to the need for us to accept responsibility for our own health as for the NHS to have adequate systems in place to prevent, or at least reduce the number of, mistakes being made. The few doctors on the night shift who are responsible for hundreds of patients may make mistakes, but how can they take responsibility for preventing this? Without appropriate support, mistakes will happen, but it does not mean the NHS should be any less responsible for supporting those who suffer than any other party who causes injuries.

Staff in the NHS, whether as a result of being overstretched or simple human error, make mistakes like any other person. Sometimes this amounts to negligence and sometimes negligent mistakes have severe consequences for the injured person. The tired and overworked doctor on the night shift who administers an excessive dose of morphine, causing a patient to stop breathing and suffer brain damage, clearly had no intention when they arrived to work to cause such an outcome; but what if the patient can no longer work and requires lifelong care to live their life?

Public services are overstretched and often cannot provide the support needed to those who have been injured. What if we were the person injured, it was our home at risk and things that we used to take for granted, like going for a walk or even going to the toilet unaided, seem like distant memories? Would we feel that compensation to allow us to return to normality, or as close to it as possible, was an abuse of the NHS or merely an effort to recover some dignity and independence?

Many of our clients come to us not wanting compensation but answers. They have followed the NHS complaints procedures, or there has been an internal investigation, but often they feel the truth has not been provided. High-profile reports, such as into maternity care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, demonstrate historic failings. Many families suffer the devastating loss of loved ones to find only years later that, tragically, their loved one could have survived and would still be with them today.

The duty of candour, introduced by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in November 2014, should have resulted in early acceptance of failings. Unfortunately, even now, many complaints or claims are unduly denied. If mistakes are admitted early, some patients may decide not to seek legal advice or legal costs could be reduced. Matt Hancock is right: prevention is better than cure.

Whilst the quoted figure of £83bn may be correct, this does not mean that the NHS will pay that out this year, next year or every year. Such figures reflect the potential value of all claims against the NHS. Some of these claims may be settled, others might be dropped, and a great number will be tied up in a legal dispute for a number of years before payment of compensation.

Reports, such as that recently released, make all of us as taxpayers and NHS users sit up and pay attention because the amount of money is significant. Ultimately, however, they are unhelpful as they fail to reflect the human, rather than financial, impact that mistakes can have.

Further information 

At Anthony Collins Solicitors, we act for clients or their families who have suffered as a result of negligent medical treatment. If you, or someone you know, would like to know more about the services we provide and our successful claims, then please contact us for an initial free, no-obligation consultation. 

If you require any further information or wish to speak to any of our team, please contact us on 0121 200 3242.