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Friday, 9 November 2012

Sorry doesn't have to be the hardest word..

I have handled many Clinical Negligence cases over the last 20 years. These have covered all areas of medicine from simple missed fractures to major brain injuries at birth.

There is one thing which has been common to almost all claimants. Despite all of the rhetoric from politicians and the media – they are not primarily interested in money. They are actually more concerned about getting an explanation about what happened, an acknowledgement that there has been a mistake and, where appropriate, an apology.

Compensation is hugely important in helping victims; especially those needing care for life. But it is not normally the main concern. In fact much litigation and much distress could be avoided by open communication and an acknowledgment that mistakes have been made.

Unfortunately that is not the case according to statistics published by the Health Service Ombudsman. In the last year there has been a 50% increase in the number of complaints about the NHS. There was a similar increase in the number who complained about poor explanations –

This is a major concern. Victims of medical blunders can often feel that they are responsible for the NHS finances. There are constant assertions made that claims against hospitals are a drain on the NHS budget and that payments made to patients are preventing others from having life saving treatment.

That could not be further from the truth. It is not the victims’ fault that their lives are devastated by a medical mistake. The cost of litigation can be avoided if open admissions and apologies are made right away. If there is an open admission that there has been negligence then both sides can work together to deliver a compensation package which provides for the victims needs. It is often a long and drawn out war of attrition to get to that position with thousands of pound spent along the way.

Life will become even more difficult for victims next year when the government’s devastating attacks on legal aid will remove help for all claimants except babies injured at birth. So injured patients and their lawyers will revert to no win no fee agreements which are again attacked by the media for feeding the so called compensation culture.

It would be better all round if the NHS took on board the observation of the Ombudsman - "The NHS needs to get better at listening to patients and their families and responding to their concerns."

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