The number of medical negligence claims faced by the NHS at has rocketed since 2008. The National Health Service Litigation Authority or NHSLA is currently dealing with 80% more each year than just 5 years ago. Whether this is a positive social trend or a negative one rather depends on your role in the nation’s health service. Clearly it is good for patients who get some compensation for their pain and suffering. But perhaps not so good for taxpayers and the public purse.
The last year alone saw medical negligence complaints rise by a fifth. The inflationary trend shows every sign of increasing and begs the question why? Are NHS standards of care falling off a cliff? Are the ‘no win, no fee’ adverts waking up a market, that previously lay dormant? Has the biggest economic recession since the creation of the NHS drove people to seek money wherever they can find it? In truth the burgeoning medical negligence arena is being contributed to by all of these factors and many more besides.
But what is medical negligence? It is a term that covers a multitude of sins of course but basically it the result of mistakes or inaction by medical practitioners of all kinds. Including GPs, surgeons, nurses, auxiliaries, psychiatrists and even dentists. These mistakes or inaction cause pain, suffering and even death in the patients on the receiving end. There have been medical negligence cases of the wrong patients (or wrong body parts) being operated on, or even bits of equipment, such as sponges or scissors being left inside patients.
To err is human, as the famous adage runs, and medical practitioners are only human after all. So it is only right to expect and to tolerate some persistent level of medical negligence complaints. The NHS is of course busier and more pressured than ever before. population demographics are against it. We are living longer and older people need more medical attention as they age. The ratio of medical people to patients is in steep decline and less time, more haste is fertile breeding grounds for errors and omissions. Yet another contributory factor for sure.
It is impossible to single out one factor as the main one causing the explosion in medical negligence claims. Yet it is important for us to be able to say how much is down to declining performance standards in the NHS. This is one of the very worrying implications of the claims mountain.
We are definitely becoming more litigious as a society. A day rarely goes by when we do not hear of another ludicrous claim for compensation from councils because children have fallen out of trees or been allowed to run in the playground. But medical negligence claims are different in that without them, where is the accountability of the medical professions? We can all understand the pressures of the NHS under the severest budgetary constraints ever. But if people do not complain how will we ever know how they are performing?