Stretched care and NHS workers could be putting patients at risk


The fact that the NHS is under-funded and overstretched is hardly a new story, but it continues to make headlines across the UK.

Individually and collectively, NHS Trusts are almost at breaking point. As we enter peak influenza ‘season’, the concern is that a significant outbreak or epidemic could wreak havoc in the healthcare system.

The General Medical Council (GMC) – the sector’s governing body – has even spoken up, calling this a ‘crunch time’ for health in the UK.

The GMC says there are four key areas of concern, including not enough new doctors coming through, an over-dependence on non-UK qualified doctors, Brexit putting this group of doctors off coming to work here, and ongoing strain on doctors whilst training.

The problems also extend to elderly care. It was recently reported in Northern Ireland that care home workers were being left ‘exhausted’ by staff shortages. A BBC investigation claimed that on one day in November, 88 people had to stay in hospital unnecessarily, due to a wait for a suitable home care package.

It is all placing incredible amounts of strain on patients and staff and levels of care, either in care homes or on hospital wards, sometimes through no fault of the individual workers, is well below what should be acceptable in a developed society.

In a month of negative news for the NHS, it has also been told that statistics relating to avoidable patient deaths must be made public. It is claimed that up to 9,000 deaths in the NHS are avoidable each year.

This scrutiny might feel like kicking the NHS while it’s down, but it is vital to introduce, and maintain, such levels of transparency. Only by talking about the problems can we aim to make things better and overcome them.

At Browell Smith & Co Solicitors, we frequently help families to deal with the consequences of underfunded health departments. Strain on staff – overworked, exhausted staff – can lead to mistakes and omissions and we have a long track record of representing patients and their families whose lives have been shattered because of avoidable medical mistakes.

We help families to bring complaints against Trusts, and where necessary, claims for damages. In almost every case, the over-riding emotion for the families involved is that want the NHS to learn from its mistakes.

The frustration from our point of view, as an interested third party, is that we can see the causes of the mistakes – the lack of funding, etc – and we can see the devastating impact that those mistakes can have – in the worst cases, death or life-altering conditions – yet year after year, nothing is done.

Perhaps 2018 will be the year when we start to see proper funding for the NHS to deliver key services where they are needed. But we won’t hold our breath.

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