Not a day goes by that we don’t hear stories of how our NHS is in crisis. On the one hand problems are simply solved by additional funding, on the other it is a more complex balance of market forces. Too often though, the NHS becomes a political and ideological football bounced around between people who should know better. One thing we can all agree on though, which is that we want the NHS to be an efficient but empathetic health provider that delivers excellent outcomes for patients and their families. Thankfully, on the whole this is exactly what happens; which is largely driven by extraordinarily dedicated doctors, nurses and support staff.
Solicitors are often seen as an obstacle to this; a profession that is taking money out of the health service that otherwise could be used to fund frontline services. This is an easy message to communicate in our soundbite world. The Telegraph will happily lead with the headline ‘Cut payouts for blunders or the NHS will go bust’, without even considering that there could be another way that would see the removal of the words ‘payouts’ and ‘for’. For all the criticism he receives, Jeremy Hunt is at least looking at ways of developing a learning culture within the NHS. Putting aside for a second how mistakes can ruin the lives of everyday people and whether they are deserving of compensation (I think it is fairly obvious on which side of the fence I stand on that one), I would argue strongly that it is the right of those people to claim for damages that has a big part to play in developing such a learning culture and reducing mistakes. This is best shown by a very simple example.
There is a fairly dry piece of legislation that covers our places of work called the Workplace (Health safety and Welfare) Regulations. One part simply says that says that traffic routes should be suitable and not uneven, or slippery. They should be kept free from obstructions that might cause people to trip over. Of course there will be plenty of employers who still to this day ignore this, but wouldn’t it be fascinating to know how many broken wrists this bit of law has prevented since it was introduced in 1992. I’m guessing it is a lot. Maybe we could calculate the saving to the NHS of just that one regulation.
So it is in this context that I was perturbed to see a headline in my local newspaper yesterday that resonated with me, since it was almost identical to a case where I had been advising a family on a pro bono basis. In this instance the Assistant Coroner for West Sussex had criticised the local ambulance service after an elderly woman had fallen and then waited for two hours for an ambulance. She later died the following day. Concerns were raised in the handling of the call and for failing to call back the patient to ascertain the priority of the call. In my case the same ambulance service had called the patient back but had not got an answer, yet they failed to do anything more. Two hours 18 minutes later when paramedics finally arrived, he was found dead.
Is not the crucial lesson here ‘how do we make sure that this never happens again’? Because if not, then it certainly should be. Is it not right that we want to make sure that people don’t hurt themselves, or families don’t have to go through what my client had to? I along with numerous others maintain that having the right to make a claim where a trust is negligent is a vital cog in improving outcomes for patients, and we should be sceptical about any attempt to reduce access to justice in this or any other area.
If you are in any way concerned about proposals limiting your right to bring a claim, please do not hesitate to contact Tim Ransley on 01273 716616 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tim Ransley is a solicitor acting for Claimants who have been injured as a result of the negligence of others. Tim is happy to have an initial consultation free of charge and regularly acts for clients on a no win no fee agreement.