Posted On / 28.12.2017

NHS ‘Never Events’, Legal Claims and the Fight for Improvement

The NHS has an unenviable task.  Providing good healthcare to over 60 million of us throughout the UK requires immeasurable resources.  The complexity of procedures and the high expectations of each of us given the vast advances in medicine also add to the responsibility the NHS has to bear.  

The level of service received is monitored by internal reporting and external monitoring.  The Government sets targets to help healthcare providers achieve a uniform service across the country.  Despite best intentions, the standard does vary and it is so often seen that particularly good or bad care can be down to the actions of one person.  In the case of good service, a clinician or nurse may stand out as they went the extra mile for the patient, something that as a patient, means so much when you are in need of care.  

Just as the service can be great for a varying number of reasons, the service can also be a disappointment and cause for complaint or claim for a varying number of reasons.  

The NHS has systems to monitor and address deficiencies in its service, the objective being to improve service for the population.  

This article covers some of the various strategies employed by the NHS to deal with those deficiencies and problems and also how it deals with complaints.  

Complaints  

Dissatisfaction can occur because of all sorts of reasons, for example long clinic waiting times, failures in surgical treatment or provision of the incorrect discharge medication.  

You can read more about how to make a complaint within our article ‘Raising A Complaint’.  

Bigger problems, some of which may be referred to as ‘Never Events’ are more serious and trigger internal investigations.    

Never Events  

Never Events are medical situations or outcomes that usually represent a fundamental error that, by its very title, should never have happened.   They are defined by NHS Improvement as serious, largely preventable patient safety incidents that should not occur if existing national guidance or safety recommendations have been implemented by healthcare providers.  

Such examples are; equipment or material left in the body following surgery, operating on the wrong side or part of the body or receiving treatment that was meant for a different patient or placing a line or tube wrongly in a patient.  

For a period of 6 months, between 1 April and 30 November 2017, 332 Never Events were reported by NHS England.  By comparison, the period 1 April to 30 November 2016 had 270 incidents, indicating a concerning rise.   

Trusts have to report Never Events centrally and these are then are published on the NHS Improvement website in the spirit of openness.  Looking at the list, there are no particular hotspots, with events occurring throughout the country in hospitals large and small.   

NHS Improvement (NHSI)  

NHS Improvement is a central body set up to oversee the service of bodies providing NHS care.  The NHSI aims to support healthcare providers on certain key elements including quality, finance and operational development.  By identifying, amongst other things, ‘Never Events’ through a National Reporting and Learning System, the intention is that quality can be monitored and the appropriate support provided to Trusts to improve.    

NHS Resolution & Legal Claims   NHS Resolution is a central Government body set up to manage claims brought against NHS providers.  Previously known as the NHS Litigation Authority, their role is to process claims and resolve issues in dispute.  The change in name reflects an intention by the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to focus on the resolution of an issue rather than a prolonged dispute.   

As this Government body sits centrally, it always had an additional advantage in being able to identify any common problems in the service or problems with particular Trusts, however, this part of the role now works in tandem with the fairly newly formed NHS Improvement. 

Legal claims are inextricably linked to measures to monitor and improve service.  Legal claims themselves are managed by NHS Resolution, often using Solicitors to process such claims.  They will acknowledge when negligent service has led to recognisable injury or illness and look at compensation payments.  During claim processing, they can make reports and recommendations to the NHS to improve problems in the service.      

Professional Regulatory Bodies  

Bodies such as the General Medical Council (GMC) and General Dental Council also monitor service by supporting and monitoring their individual members.  Such Bodies set ethical standards, maintain registers of practitioners and their specialisms and, in the case of the GMC conduct ‘revalidation’ checks every 5 years to check the particular practitioner is fit to practice in their chosen field.  Regulatory Bodies also look into complaints from members of the public, some of which may lead to disciplinary hearings.  

Final Word  

The patients, ie all of us, are a tier of the monitoring system.  By feeding back and complaining when necessary, we can all help to improve the service.  

On the occasion when the problem is more serious, or you need help with a complaint or potential claim against a healthcare provider, contact us here at Battens.   

We provide a comprehensive medical and clinical negligence service.    We can help you pursue a legal claim against the healthcare provider concerned, to help you obtain compensation and move on from the incident.   

Our specialist team is local to you and very experienced, specialising in clinical claims.  We have offices located throughout Somerset and Dorset - from Bath to Weymouth and Wareham.  We are highly sympathetic and make it a point to treat all our clients as individuals, not numbers.  We also offer No Win, No Fee type fee arrangements in a lot of cases.  

Click here for more information on how we can help and how to contact us.