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Insight

6,000 avoidable deaths in hospital every year

Arti Shah
20/07/2015
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt this week set out plans for a new contract for doctors to increase their hours to cover working weekends, on the basis that there are 6,000 avoidable deaths in hospitals every year. His proposals and comments have put him in direct conflict with the British Medical Association, who say increasing hours will not solve the problem, and indeed may have a knock on effect on care that is already provided. Irrespective of the contentious debate above, my concern relates to patient experiences following death or avoidable harm in hospitals. In February 2015, the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO) produced a report into the NHS Complaints Process, branding it "appalling". The highly critical report led to comments from the Chief Executive of patients group Healthwatch England, Dr Katherine Rake, for a "complete overhaul of the complaints process."

I blogged about this in February when the report came out, and I felt compelled to raise the issue again. It saddens me every time I have a new client who describes their personal experience of the handling of their complaint. Recent examples of the lack of transparency and obstacles that clients have faced range from being told that an investigation into the circumstances of a baby's death had been commenced, when in fact it had not, to failures to respond to repeated requests for details of the circumstances of delivery during birth which were known to be difficult, and which resulted in harm to the baby. In some of my cases, clients have waited over a year for investigations to be completed. Often, full disclosure will not have been provided in relation to investigation documents, resulting in further information coming to light. In one recent case, an application I made revealed an entire lever arch file of associated communication which the family had been unaware of. This contained some important information relating to the treatment their child received.

More needs to be done for patients and their relatives to obtain answers when things have gone wrong. Lessons need to be learned instead of token apologies being offered. Time needs to be taken to explain how systems and processes are being changed. In a lot of instances, dealing with a complaint in a humane and compassionate manner will do more for patient experiences than a legal action will.

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