Why make a Clinical Negligence claim?

One of the principal reasons a Claimant will decide to bring a clinical negligence claim is not only to remedy an unfair situation but also to try and prevent other people from being subjected to the same substandard treatment.

Sometimes, a Claimant may receive a detailed response to a Complaint or Claim, from the negligent Trust, setting out areas for improvement and how the Trust intends to learn from the substandard treatment/incident.

However, in some situations, a Claimant will not receive any information on if and how the Trust intends to learn from their negligence, and what they will be doing to avoid the same mistakes in the future – which can be understandably frustrating.

What is patient safety?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines patient safety as “the prevention of errors and adverse effects to patients associated with healthcare”, whilst NHS England defines it as “maximising the things that go right and minimising the things that go wrong.”

In 2019, Imperial College London found that, globally, unsafe healthcare accounts for more lives lost than either lung cancer (1.7 million), diabetes (1.6 million) or road injuries (1.4 million). Further to this, WHO has stated in 2019 that there is a 1 in a million chance of a person being harmed while travelling by plane. But 1 in 300 chance of a patient being harmed during health care.

Healthcare is thought to be a safe space. However, the risk of harm is more pervasive than many may assume. From a patient’s perspective, the personal experience of harm can be traumatic, both physically and psychologically.

Types of Adverse/Negligent Events

Adverse, negligent events can happen in primary, ambulatory or hospital care, impacting patient safety.

Some examples include:-

  • Delayed diagnosis;
  • Failure of timely follow-up;
  • Medication errors;
  • Hospital-acquired infections;
  • Surgical errors;
  • Pressure injuries;
  • Falls;
  • Diagnostic errors and
  • Adverse drug events.

Learning from Litigation Claims

The Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) programme and NHS Resolution have published a new best practice guide, Learning from Litigation Claims, in May 2021 aiming to help Trusts learn more from NHS negligence claims, in the drive for better patient safety.

Particular regard in the new guidance has been given to Maternity, Gynaecology, Orthopaedic and Emergency Medicine services.

In 2019, Imperial College London reported that 9 in every 100,000 mothers still die in avoidable pregnancy-related cases in the UK. The concern is acutely felt by those working in maternity services, with one study finding that approximately 600 frontline maternity staff demonstrated a real concern for safety and a demand for better approaches to learning from incidents and creating safe skill mixes amongst teams.

It has been reported that the cost of harm for clinical negligence claims from incidents in 2019/20 is expected to cost the NHS £8.3 billion. Professor Tim Briggs, Chair of GIRFT and National Director of Clinical Improvement for the NHS, has commented:

With some trusts paying over £40 million in yearly contributions and the annual cost representing around 2% of the NHS budget, it is clear that board-level attention on claims is essential and should be part of the effective governance of any organisation. With the additional financial pressures on the NHS from COVID-19, getting our approach to claims right, and learning from them, has never been more important.

Further to this, Helen Vernon, Chief Executive of NHS Resolution has added:

Claims for clinical negligence are a valuable source of learning and an opportunity for improvement that should not be lost. This [new] guidance sets out some practical steps to help the trusts to give learning from claims the attention it deserves so that these devastating events can be avoided and NHS funds preserved for caring patients.

The aim is to maximise what can be learned from litigation so as to be for the benefit of patients and to curb escalating costs.

The Learning from Litigation Claims Guidance has presented a framework, suggesting the following measures:-

  • Appointing dedicated clinical staff to assist Trust legal teams, with sessions incorporated into job plans;
  • Enabling regular discussion of claims with clinicians in forums such as clinical governance or multidisciplinary meetings;
  • Making clinicians more aware of the claims process and ensuring legal teams are more visible to clinical staff at all times;
  • Ensuring clinical staff are aware when a claim has been initiated and are fully supported through the process; and
  • Working in partnership with patients, families and carers, and involving them in investigations, to ensure openness.

Learning from Litigation Claims is endorsed by Sir Robert Francis QC, who specialises in medical law and clinical negligence, and has chaired several high profile health inquiries. He has stated:

I look forward to a day when all patients who have suffered unexpected and unwanted harmful outcomes will have the chance to be part of the learning from incidents.

The Future of Patient Safety

As the new Guidance has only been published this month, it is too early to tell whether the aim of increasing patient safety and learning from claims will be wholly successful.

It is thought that the following are ways to help improve patient safety:-

  • Move away from paper to prevent missing tasks, illegible notes, losing paper and struggling to manage resources;
  • Implement effective task management with the digitisation of task management platforms;
  • Streamline communications between colleagues;
  • Improve patient flow with digitisation instead of paper lists and whiteboards; and
  • Provide safer systems in general.

The unforeseen stress placed on the NHS and other healthcare providers in the past year has highlighted the need to support hospitals and community organisations in order to manage patients as safely as possible. Further to this, when things do go wrong, it is important that adequate learning is taken away so as to prevent similar substandard treatment/incidents from occurring again.

We can help

If you believe you have been experienced negligent medical treatment and would like to discuss bringing a clinical negligence claim, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team. Call 01522 561020 or email wecanhelp@ringroselaw.co.uk

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