THE BLOG

Should We Sue the NHS?

20/06/2013 18:05 | Updated 20 August 2013
  • Ed Fletcher Chief Executive of medical negligence experts Fletchers Solicitors

The NHS is a national treasure. It's almost sacrosanct in the eyes of the British public, and anyone who sues the health service is a money grabbing leach - especially their lawyers.

While that's an extreme view, it's a commonly held belief that litigation is a waste of tax payers' money and clinical negligence claims are a drain on resources, are unethical and primarily 'not very British'.

Don't agree with me? - just look at the internet backlash that took place during the Olympics when countless Americans criticised how 'socialised' healthcare propaganda featured heavily in the opening ceremony. Thousands of British keyboard warriors hit back pointing out how the NHS is the single most important organisation in the UK.

But is that the full story? If we dig underneath the surface, is the NHS in fact letting the nation down? Latest figures show that NHS negligence claims rose by 20% in the last twelve months and by 80% since 2008. That accounts for a £19billion bill - one fifth of the NHS budget - to service claims made by over 16,000 patients and families of those bereaved.

But how much of this cost is to do with ambulance-chasing lawyers, and what proportion is for genuine claimants who have lost their loved ones, limbs or vital organs, and the ability to share a normal life with their nearest and dearest because of the failings of healthcare professionals?

Each month at Fletchers Solicitors, we hear of hundreds of new negligence cases. There are countless examples of people who have been denied basic care such as food or water, suffered catastrophic injuries from simple surgical errors, right through to repeated and systematic failure to diagnose symptoms of preventable yet life-threatening illnesses.

It's all desperately depressing stuff, but would you deny these people, or their families, the chance to use compensation to rebuild their lives, which have been irrevocably changed forever?

Mistakes and negligence happen in almost every organisation, but the NHS sometimes compounds its mistakes through secretive practices and by not admitting failure fast enough. A good proportion of most legal costs comprise of the time it takes to conduct lengthy investigations to establish the full facts surrounding the case. In nearly all other fields of law, guilt is established far quicker, dramatically reducing the legal costs. But why does it take so much longer for the NHS to admit liability?

Unfortunately for tax payers, the NHS operates in a culture of secrecy. Gagging orders are rife and it is common for cover ups to appear time and time again.

Given the time it takes for potential claims to be investigated and assessed, it could be as long as six months before these claims go through the system and the NHS starts to gauge the true size of the problem.

Greater transparency, a willingness to settle early when negligence has occurred and an improvement in the basic standard of care shown to patients and their families would go a long way to alleviate the potential problems a dramatic increase in claims would cause.
Far too often cases are prolonged unnecessarily only to be settled on the court steps. Earlier intervention would dramatically reduce the total cost of these cases to the taxpayer.

The NHS is a fantastic service. Having severed my spine in a motorbike accident over ten years ago, I've benefitted so much from the services healthcare professionals provide. That's why it breaks my heart to see first-hand the kind of lapses and failings in care that we've seen highlighted in the news recently.

We believe that suing for medical negligence is necessary to highlight the significant problems in the health service and make sure that malpractice doesn't happen again. My hope is that with proper focus and attention to detail, we can do our bit to help standards improve and make the NHS great again.

But what do you think? Maybe you think us lawyers are all ambulance chasers? At Fletchers Solicitors we have launched a debate to gauge the public mood around whether suing the NHS is ethical. It would be great to get your views in the comments thread on this post or via our Facebook page.

Ed Fletcher is the chief executive of Fletchers Solicitors. For more information visit fletcherssolicitors.co.uk