For the last 12 months the press have reported on two subjects that always catch my eye. One is the ‘Compensation Culture crippling the NHS’ and the other, the ‘Widespread budget cuts effecting front line care’.
It doesn’t come as a great surprise to me that these two issues are linked but you rarely see the press taking that angle.
Recent news reports have highlighted 17 NHS Hospitals amongst 26 healthcare providers in England that are failing to operate within safe staffing levels. The Care Quality Commission, in identifying these hospitals (two of which are Sussex based) have stated that there was not sufficient staff “to keep people safe and meet their health and welfare needs”.
And just last week, the Today programme explored Defence Union claims that “unsustainable” levels of compensation were being paid by the NHS in clinical negligence cases.
Staffing shortages have long been a concern for the NHS and were put in the spotlight by the revelations that at Stafford Hospital up to 1200 patients died needlessly as budgets were slashed, whilst the hospital aimed for NHS Foundation Trust status.
Clinical negligence and personal injury lawyers are often accused of bringing too many claims and fingers have been pointed, accusing us of creating a “compensation culture”. This is despite the fact that there is no real evidence that one actually exists. In fact, the number of claims brought against the NHS has remained static for several years.
Irrespective of how many people are attracted by some firm’s glitzy advertising with teddy bears on crutches, the basic legal principles have not changed in decades. Compensation is only ever payable when a person is injured as a result of a failure by clinical staff to provide the care to which that person was entitled. The amount of compensation payable is linked only to the severity of a person’s injuries and the amount of care and assistance they need in the future.
Without a failure to provide the level of care that we are all entitled to expect, there would be no more compensation of the magnitude Charlie Scott received.
To my mind, in order to alleviate the financial pressure on the NHS in the long run, it would seem that more focus and investment should be placed on training staff and ensuring adequate numbers of clinicians are available. It should be about investment in better care and not finger pointing and blaming when it all goes wrong. Ultimately, such action will prevent a claim from being brought in the first place and more importantly, give people access to the care they deserve.