Amazing NHS breakthroughs cannot mask the problems that persist

3rd January 2017 Clinical Negligence

The year 2016 was remarkable in many ways, not just for its enormous political upheaval, but also for the many amazing medical breakthroughs that were made.

Developments in the treatment of serious illnesses that affect thousands of people could see sufferers' life expectancy and quality dramatically improve in the future. This includes innovations in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, prostate cancer and a new cystic fibrosis drug.

Meanwhile a method that will enable babies to be born using IVF involving three parents was approved by the government. This will enable couples suffering from genetic conditions to conceive avoid passing their condition on to their children.

However as amazing and welcome as these breakthroughs are, the same old problems pervade with general NHS care, particularly in our hospitals. Over the weekend we heard the disappointing news that serious mistakes by hospital staff are on the rise despite the government's drive to improve patient safety in the wake of the Stafford Hospital scandal (the Guardian).

According to the Guardian, official figures have been obtained by former health minister Norman Lamb which show that errors involving 'sub-optimal' care more than doubled from 260 in the year 2013-14 to 588 in 2015-16. This includes cases of delayed diagnosis, patient test results not being acted on, poor care for seriously ill patients and surgical error. This is concerning for many reasons, not least because it concerns basic care that hospitals are too often failing to provide.

Why is the NHS capable of developments that will improve the lives of so many patients but is increasingly providing unsafe care that could devastate the lives of others for ever? In the medical negligence department at JMW we see the impact such mistakes have. We are contacted weekly by scores of patients who have suffered poor care and want to take action and prevent the same thing from happening to others. We help victims to pick up the pieces by securing the compensation they need to be able to cope with their injuries and obtain apologies and answers but they always wish they had not suffered such an ordeal.

Mr Lamb blames the rise in errors on the pressure the NHS is under and this seems the obvious door to lay the blame at. If staff are overstretched, then the potential for human error increases. Front-line NHS services seem to be expected to do more and more yet budgets and staff quotas rarely increase.

There is some amazing work going on in the NHS but this increase in basic errors is extremely concerning. Hospital patients should be able to expect a safe standard of care and that the potential for avoidable harm is minimal. Unfortunately, these figures show that this is too often not the case.

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Eddie Jones is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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