Recent figures show that the NHS has set aside almost a quarter of its entire budget as a contingency fund to cover medical negligence claims against it. It is now expected that Jeremy Hunt, the coalition government’s Secretary of State for Health, will announce plans to fine hospitals which try to cover up medical errors.
The figures indicate that the NHS Litigation Authority – the body responsible for dealing with legal action against the NHS – has set aside just over £26 billion to cover liabilities both now and in the future. This represents almost a quarter of the annual NHS budget, which stands at £113 billion.
In 2014 alone, over £1.3 billion was paid out to people who had made medical negligence claims for compensation.
Hospitals to be fined up to £100 K for lack of honesty
Jeremy Hunt’s plans to fine hospitals who cover up mistakes may result in fines of up to £100,000 where it can be shown that hospitals have not been open and honest about their negligence cases.
On the face of it, this initiative should be welcomed, as long as the government is serious about it, and will follow through on the threat of fining hospitals who have covered up errors. An important part of improving patient care is surely being open, and willing to learn from mistakes. The government does seem to be committed to sending out a very clear message that covering up medical mistakes is not acceptable.
The government cannot be criticised for wanting to reduce avoidable deaths in the NHS and to make it easier for whistleblowers who flag up care failings. The overwhelming majority of people working in the NHS do what is a very demanding job to the very best of their ability – and each and every one of us is grateful for what they do.
It is shocking though to learn that an estimated thousand patients every month are dying because of NHS employees mistakes. The prime example of this which hit the headlines was the notorious Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust where vulnerable patients were left without food or drink, or left lying in soiled bedding. The problems at Mid Staffs stemmed partly from the culture within the hospital, meaning the poor standards were thought of as normal by the staff, and anyone who did try to speak out was bullied.
Is enough being done to support NHS whistleblowers?
But are the government really going far enough to protect NHS whistleblowers as recommended by Sir Robert Francis’s report? A senior official in the Care Quality Commission (CQC) thinks not. Amanda Pollard handed in her resignation after raising concerns that the CQC would not be able to pick up “another Stafford” and said that the recommendations in Sir Robert’s report would have done little to give her protection.
Mrs Pollard said that the implementation of the recommendations in Sir Robert’s report depended solely on the goodwill of NHS Trusts and other official bodies.
Is the NHS really ready to change?
It’s all very well to say that the NHS culture has to be more open, but for the culture to change, the NHS has to want to be more open. Can we really believe that the NHS is ready to completely change its ways and admit that sometimes its employees can make errors.
The story about the levels of spending on medical negligence comes hot on the heels of previous revelations that NHS spending on public relations is up more than a quarter in a single year, just at the time when hospitals are going through a period of deep crisis. Figures show that spending on PR is predicted to reach almost £12.1 million in the current financial year, compared to a 2013/14 figure of £9.5 million.
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