Patient Safety and Surgeries at 'Breaking Point'

11th January 2016 Clinical Negligence

£One of the common threads running through many cases handled by everyone in JMW's Clinical Negligence department is the link between insufficient resourcing and inadequate healthcare.

Numerous studies - by academics, journalists and Government - have underlined the impact of too few staff or too little testing on patients. It is worrying, then, to learn of material obtained by the British Medical Association (BMA) detailing the operating health of GP surgeries across England.

Using a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the Association learned that more than 100 surgeries asked NHS England for permission to stop accepting new patients during the financial year 2014-15.

A failure to recruit staff, claims the BMA, has left many surgeries at "breaking point". Local doctors are often the first point of contact which patients have with the National Health Service and the prospect of not being able to see a doctor is a troubling one, especially as there is a growing appreciation of the role that GPs can play in providing better treatment.

Only last year, the NHS suggested that more than 5,000 cancer deaths each year might be avoided if local surgeries assumed even greater responsibilities in requesting scans, tests and X-rays.

Such plans to 'fast-track' clinical enquiries for patients considered at risk of developing cancer could, of course, be derailed if those individuals can't be seen by GPs in the first place.

The NHS has responded to suggestions that the integrity of the very vital network of GP practices is at risk by outlining how it is investing £15 million to increase staffing numbers.

It has also noted how just under half of those included in the BMA data who asked to stop taking on new patients had those requests refused.

Let us not forget either how GPs have argued that, in limiting the size of their patient rosters, they're trying to maintain standards for patients already on their books.

Even so, there is clearly an issue which poses a risk to patient safety and needs resolution. People who suffer the consequences of poorly-resourced health services don't want to hear administrative arguments.

They come to us for help in establishing why they and their loved ones suffered and the reassurance of knowing that the same mistakes won't be repeated.

It is right that their initial health concerns should not be compounded by worries about whether they will actually be able to find a GP to treat them.

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

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