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Lindsay Holt welcomes NHS guide to improve learning from medical negligence claims

Lindsay Holt
In May 2021, NHS Resolution and Getting It Right First Time, the national programme to improve patient care, publish their best practice guide for clinicians and managers in the healthcare setting.

Learning from Litigation Claims makes the business case for patient safety from the perspective of the paying party. Clinical negligence rightly leads to awards of compensation to those injured by their treatment or late diagnosis and it is common sense that ensuring good clinical practice and effective governance will improve patient care.

In his Statement of Support, Sir Robert Francis QC mirrors the views of many prospective clients:

'When the outcome of medical treatment is unwanted and unexpected and results in harm, the first priority should be the patient, or, in the case of a fatality, the bereaved. The doctor/patient relationship does not end because something has occurred which everyone would have preferred had been avoided.

'So many victims of medical accidents I have met wanted, but were denied, honest explanations, appropriate apologies, and timely support for their needs. They would have welcomed being involved in working out how their experience could be used to avoid others suffering as they had. Many such victims would have been satisfied with being treated with respect in this way and would not have gone on to sue for damages.'

Many of our clients have an immediate and urgent need for care, therapy and accommodation and the only means of accessing those resources is to make a claim. Others have found the response to their injuries, if anything, adds insult to injury, and echo Sir Robert's comments.

The authors of the Guide note that many hospital clinicians and managers are unaware of claims in their department unless they are directly involved. This might explain why the explanation or apology, so often needed, is not forthcoming.

News reports about poor practice at Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust, Spire Healthcare, East Kent Hospitals University Hospitals NHS Trust, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and University Hospitals NHS Trust among others have become too commonplace.

These widespread failings have often been identified after a spate of legal claims, rather than by an internal whistle blower or audit and linked to particular departments or clinicians. Learning from clinical negligence claims, sharing information with healthcare staff has been shown to influence and improve clinical practice and the guide, directed towards doctors, Hospital Trusts and their claims managers acknowledges the claims process as a driver for improvements in healthcare.

The Guide's recommendations for improvements in communication with frontline staff, auditing and pro-actively tracking claims to identify failures in practice and avoid recurrence can only be a good thing for patient safety.

If you have been affected by sub-standard patient care, contact or any of the medical negligence team.

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