In the light of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust scandal and the high mortality following hospital errors, what lessons can be learnt for a safer NHS and will this reduce the need to sue the NHS?
Many of you will remember the concerns raised in 2008 because of the high death rates at Stafford hospital following which the Healthcare Commission was alerted. The Commission released a report in 2009 criticising the management of the hospital and the appalling care that many of its patients received, causing the death of 100’s more patients than would be expected. Death rates of all NHS hospitals are now available on a government website. Further, independent inquiries were undertaken, but their remit was narrow, not looking at NHS services as a whole. A number of families and individuals claimed for compensation by suing the NHS because of hospital negligence. Robert Francis QC has chaired the final public inquiry and his report is due shortly, which I await with interest.
The forthcoming report is likely to deliver a damning commentary on Stafford hospital and make recommendations to prevent the same examples of medical negligence happening again. Recent leaks of the forthcoming report suggest that the NHS will face wide-ranging reforms and will need to reassess its culture to avoid the same negligent hospital treatment and awful neglect happening in the future.
Among the proposals are likely to be the need for better training and supervision of nurses and healthcare assistants, better regulation of hospital managers and better representation for patients. It seems to me that managers had cut costs, causing a reduction in staff and essential services in a bid to hit targets, but with the result of dramatically affecting the standard of patient care.
Julie Bailey, whose mother Bella died at the hospital, started an amazing campaign group: Cure the NHS, which has been admirably fighting for justice for the victims of the scandal and for reform of the systems in place in the NHS. Their aim is to improve patient safety and care within the NHS overall and for patients to be provided with better support, information and advice and to share their experiences with others, something I entirely support.
The charity AvMA (Action against Medical Accidents) has also campaigned for much better accountability by NHS staff, particularly when something goes wrong. They have continued with their proposal for a legal duty of candour by healthcare staff called ‘Robbie’s Law’, after the tragic case of Robbie Powell who died aged 10 in 1990, where the serious circumstances of his death were covered up. In May 2012 I was disappointed that the Government refused to introduce a law to introduce a duty on medical staff to be honest in their account of patient care, but AvMA hope that some form of contractual duty will be introduced for staff when the report is delivered from the Mid Staffordshire public inquiry.
As a medical negligence solicitor I have supported many patients and families through what is a difficult process in brining a claim against the NHS or indeed private doctors. Some medical accidents can be resolved through the complaints process and by a simple apology, but some injuries can be catastrophic such as cerebral palsy, brain or spinal injuries. A claim for compensation will not give back what someone has lost, but it will go far in improving the quality of life for those injured.
I hope that with reform of NHS management, training standards and funding the standard of care in the NHS will improve and the number of these tragic cases will decrease.