Clinical Negligence In The Media – Fees, Fault & Forgiveness
This week, the BBC and wider media have reported heavily on the impact of clinical negligence claims on the NHS. The underlying theme across these pieces is that the system is in need of major reform, given the levels of damages and costs that are being paid out. In this article, Andrew King, head of our Personal Injury & Medical Negligence department, gives his opinion on the topic.
The NHS continues to be horribly underfunded and poorly resourced. As a consequence, mistakes and acts of negligence can and do happen, far more frequently than they should. When that happens, it is right that an individual be properly compensated to ensure their life is not unduly compromised.
No individual who suffers injury as a result of medical negligence is enamoured at the prospect of bringing a claim. Damages for ‘pain and suffering’ remain grossly undervalued, with the bulk of payouts being comprised of claims for loss of earnings, care needs and adapted accommodation, directly resulting from the mistakes that were made.
It is unquestionable that legal fees account for a lot of what the NHS has to pay. But without those solicitors, like me, who battle every day to ensure clients receive what they deserve and need, where would that leave those innocent victims?
The starting point must be for the NHS to look within. Firstly, greater resources are needed to reduce the number of claims. With insufficient numbers of hospital staff working extremely long hours, without adequate breaks or the chance to properly refuel, there is an increasing likelihood of mistakes being made. This is the reality. Where lives and livelihoods are at risk, corners should not be being cut.
Secondly, NHS Resolution, the organisation responsible for dealing with claims, must also tackle claims more assertively and with greater levels of candour. There has certainly been an improvement in the last 3 years; attitudes are changing and there is a greater willingness to accept fault at an earlier stage. There is, however, always more that can be done.
I am reminded of a case I settled a little over a year ago. My client suffered the loss of her husband to suicide following his premature release from an NHS mental healthcare facility. The NHS denied responsibility, forcing us to bring a claim and fight over a period of 4 years. We eventually settled the claim at a mediation. At that mediation, we started with a joint session in which my opposing solicitor gave an unexpected heartfelt and emotional apology to my client for the NHS’ failings on behalf of her Trust client.
Had that apology been made 4 years prior, following the Inquest, no claim would have been made. My client’s primary driver was not money; she sought justice. This is the sort of lesson that NHS Resolution needs to learn from.
I spoke to a lady this week who had suffered the tragic neonatal death of her son, caused by the negligence of the NHS. This lady does not want damages. She has no desire to bring a claim for financial benefit. What she wants is closure, for the NHS to put it’s hands up and admit that its failing caused the death of her baby boy. She wants someone to say sorry, and for the NHS to confirm that lessons have and will be learned, that procedures will be changed and that no mother will suffer the same tragedy.
Following our discussion, the lady is going to make a complaint to the NHS Trust. If the complaint is dealt with as it should be, this situation is resolved. If not, the only remaining option is for her to instigate a clinical negligence claim in the hope of achieving the justice she seeks.
As I stated above, the starting point for reform must be for the NHS to look within. If resources can be allocated to improving the quality of care, the number of negligence claims will inevitably fall. Where mistakes have been made, NHS Resolution needs to be quicker to accept fault. Not only will this reduce the resulting legal fees, but it will also save the victims of clinical negligence from enduring years of unnecessary grief in their efforts to find closure.
Lennons Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Buckinghamshire, with offices in Chesham, Amersham and Beaconsfield. Andrew King is the head of our Personal Injury & Medical Negligence department. He is an experienced clinical negligence solicitor and is accredited by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers as a Senior Litigator. If you need assistance with a clinical negligence matter, talk to us on 01494 773377 or email [email protected]
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