With the Francis Report blowing the lid off what had become a crisis situation within the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, the recent media frenzy has caused concern over the legal ramifications of its findings.
In more general news, the Telegraph recently reported that the number of legal claims against the NHS has risen by almost a fifth in the last year – and by four-fifths in five years. With the total cost of awards made and the legal bills which continue to mount, the amount being paid out by the authorities is into the billions, with the Law Gazette reporting late last year that maternity claims alone had cost the services over £3 billion between 2000 and 2010.
Leading medical negligence firms such as Field Fisher Waterhouse have reported a growth in the number of medical negligence claims against the NHS in recent years. Even those ‘non-clinical’ claims – tales of people suffering accidents while visiting hospitals due to wet floors and the like – amounted to over £50 million, according to figures published by the NHS Litigation Authority.
With this frightening figure representing only a proportion of what is being spent in cases involving other forms of medical negligence, the Francis Report makes a number of recommendations for the Trust in particular which could be adopted into improving the standards of care and management across the whole institution, which would mean being able to spend money not set aside for potential lawsuits on maintaining the highest standards of healthcare – not just in hospitals but on the bureaucratic side of things as well.
Among other things, the report called for a Duty of Candour – that is, for an open and honest discourse between hospital staff, management and the general public. Under this recommendation, in the case of a mistake leading to exacerbation of a patient’s condition, those involved would be urged to acknowledge the error and apologise before the matter legally escalates.
With the seemingly constant disorganisation of different entities within the NHS and their responsibilities to patient care – faceless groups and Trusts which do not strictly deal with the general public – the report also called for one regulator of both the healthcare side of things, and the management of staff. Clarity has been sought to determine who should take care of patients, and who should take charge of budgets, and whether the twain can meet as one single group with the same aim. It’s these reorganisations and reshuffles which have needlessly cost a large bulk of the NHS budget over the years – leaving the taxpayer vulnerable to the financial hit.
By taking steps to straighten out both the NHS’ duty of care and their duty to business, it can save the money that’s being spent on lawsuits and instead re-invest into better standards of care, ensuring that the whole thing doesn’t begin over again.