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Compensation Culture & the NHS

Unfortunately the UK is well down the road to becoming a litigious society suing whenever the opportunity arises in order to achieve cash compensation for what in most cases is a genuine accident or an unintentional error on someone’s part. Probably the worst example must the NHS where something like £800million is paid out each year from a now cash strapped yet still brilliant service.

Apart from the rare as hen’s teeth rogue nurse or doctor, I think we can agree that no one in the health service actually wants to do any harm to a patient and indeed, positively wants a good outcome. In any organisation, particularly one as big as the NHS, from time to time things will go wrong, mistakes will happen and only a fool would believe that perfection is possible, although, of course, that is what should be the aim as that way lies continuing improvement.

What to do when things do go wrong? Obviously the patient must have the best possible treatment to put right, wherever possible, any damage. Where serious injury has been caused requiring long term care or even adaptations to the home or mobility needs then these are already covered by our health and social security systems at no cost to the individual. In parallel an investigation into the cause(s) of the error should be carried out with no threat of financial penalties to the establishment concerned followed by full and public disclosure of the report including what measures have been taken to improve the system.

No amount of money will take away pain or discomfort or, in extremis, loss of a limb and as stated, the State will provide all that is necessary to cope with the future. Therefore Government should pass a law making it impossible to sue the NHS for monetary reward and thereby freeing up some £800million each year to improve the health service including accident prevention.

On a final note it may seem that the NHS must be absolutely appalling if it pays out that much compensation annually. In reality it pays out in many cases ‘without admitting liability’ rather than face huge costs and time fighting in the courts defending actions brought hoards of unscrupulous lawyers only too happy to scrounge off society.

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5 thoughts on “Compensation Culture & the NHS

  1. Dave Wells on said:

    In a world where money is what counts, I think that suing will become an effective way of weeding out the crap and encouraging better standards and training.
    I don’t accept that the amount of cock ups are minimal, I feel it is all too common place, and possibly each pct may have to look carefully at staff, procedures , and training to reduce its costs. It’s a sad way forward.

  2. Achieving a cash payout in compensation from the NHS will only take money from the service thereby making improvements even more difficult.

    Given that the NHS treats over 3 million cases each week, yes, each week, then the number of errors or cock ups is incredibly small.

  3. BT, DT! on said:

    Well, freethinker, you’re entitled to your opinions. But have you ever tried to take legal action against the NHS for genuine negligence and/or abuse?

    I guess not. Most people who do so find that the experience is akin to having wisdom teeth extracted through the rectum. Only more painful.

    Plus, no lawyer in the country will touch a case that is, although genuine and deserving, lacking a high degree of evidence. Acquiring this corroborative evidence is way beyond the capacity of most injured or ill patients : it costs £thousands and thousands, and that’s if a patient can persuade a doctor to give evidence against a brother medic.

    As cases rarely come to court, most of the NHSLA’s costs are taken up in behind the scenes defense activities. These span a panoply of tactics, some obvious and others that have been described by patients as like those of former Soviet regimes. NHSLA budget is in excess of £3billion (Billion). Patients get a measly share of £800million, from which their lawyers have to be paid and many other associated costs have to be met. I don’t suppose you’ve met any lawyer who helps patients take legal action against the NHS, nor seen the level and scope of work that they must put in? It is staggeringly intense and detailed – and they must support an often fragile patient and their family through the whole ordeal.

    And what the damaged patient gets is most certainly not ‘reward’. Damages are almost wholly comprised of a rather nominal sum for lost earnings and loss of earning potential. If they’re lucky they may get a payment towards future care. Given that most cases take years to action because of the NHS’s obstructions (in so many callous and underhand ways) and refusals to admit liability or even just that things have gone wrong, this often means years of lost wages, broken families, further trauma. The average ‘reward’ actually turns out to be something like £15,000. Not much for years of suffering and poverty and having your life destroyed, is it? It’s infinitely easier to work and earn – but if you’re injured, as much as you’d dearly love to you can’t.

    Seriously, I do understand your arguments and would defend your absolute right to voice your opinions in a reasonable way. Here though, your opinion is very ill-informed. I’m not being smart, but please, please speak to people who have actually taken legal action where they’ve been maltreated by the NHS. I guarantee 100% that your next post on the subject would be completely different.

    And we haven’t even touched on the issue of addressing the systemic dysfunctions that lead to the negligence and failures in the first place. It seems that, despite all the media hot air about ‘compensation culture’, the NHS in practice far prefers to pay out damages to the few patients who actually win their cases than overhaul a massively dysfunctional organisation with its entrenched culture of denial and cover-up. There are two sides to this equation – and the NHS is infinitely more powerful in setting the scene and pushing the script. Currently and very sadly, suing is really the only way the majority of people have of getting the NHS to take any notice of its failures.

    The darned thing is that the vast majority of damaged patients would be satisfied with an early, honest, open explanation coupled with a genuine apology. Then everyone could move on and do what they should be doing : helping the patient to get well. The NHS doesn’t work like that. In fact, it’s the NHS which in practice sets the agenda, putting money above care and compassion. It’s a £multi-billion business not a benevolent society.

  4. Hi BT DT
    Although it didn’t seem like it at first read I think we are not too far apart. To answer your initial question no, I haven’t ever tried to sue the NHS and I have to say that should I be unfortunate enough to be in a position to consider suing I wouldn’t. I believe that the NHS belongs to all of us and if I were granted monetary compensation I would be taking it from the health service of everyone.

    That said, I agree with you that it is far too difficult to pin down whoever or whatever is responsible for a serious error and this of course leaves the system open to repeat that error and so should be urgently addressed and sufficient pressure can only be applied by government.

    I say again that the the welfare state at large provides after care for patients and ex patients including those who have been damaged in whatever way by medical errors. We should be glad that it does so and defend to our last breath our NHS and welfare state against those, like the present government, who seek to diminish it or even destroy it.

  5. I was left in intensive care on life support and when I came round unable to read, write walk or talk due to a catalogue of errors. One of these ‘errors’ was my (ex) GP REFUSING to prescribe a drug the specialist insisted I needed but trusted the GP to write the prescription. Would I be better now had I sued? I wouldn’t be better off health wise but I may be further down the route of getting treatment as I could have afforded to get private care which just isn’t available. There was a time when Nurses were there because they wanted to care for people, and many of them still are but even talking to some of them they don’t like the job, there’s too much paper work involved, they want out, they DON’T want to be in a job involved in filling out forms etc but that’s what the job has turned into. I did try to take legal action as I was being refused the care I knew I needed, it’s now too late and I am waiting my emergency appointment (made in end of June for Sept 10th) with the specialist to see if he can slow down the speed of my glands shutting down. Shall I sue? no, but I won’t go down quietly and no doubt statements will be released stating lessons have been learnt. The NHS needs to get rid of men in suits can get more people who CARE back on board. I think it’s only people who know their lives will be/have been cut short etc who will think of suing and for me it would just be something to help pay my mum to get the councilling she may need afterwards which I know will be a 6month wait on the NHS unless you go private. Sad times all round in this country

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