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Medical Negligence In the UK is a Bigger Problem Than You Might Think

[Guest Post: Millie Whitehead]

Most people go to the hospital to improve their health. They expect to get a new injury or illness. Unfortunately, thousands of people in the UK suffer injuries, contract illnesses and even die in hospitals each year. The medical community has taken multiple steps to improve the quality of care, but mistakes still happen. And those who have suffered as a result of these mistakes have no other option than to seek help through resources like a medical negligence solicitor.

Medical Negligence Cases on the Rise

According to the latest NHS England figures, 683,883 incidents of medical negligence were reported from October 2012 to March 2013. And 1,834 patients died as a result of these mistakes. That’s an increase of 6.4 percent from the previous year.

Since the NHS treats approximately one million patients every 36 hours, the risk of experiencing a medical mistake is quite low. For those who have suffered or lost a love one as a result of medical negligence, the numbers don’t matter. They want help and the comfort of knowing it won’t happen again.

Human Nature Causes Medical Errors

Professor Andrew Downes fell in his home. Emergency Services got him to his feet, had him walk down the stairs and took him to the hospital where Downes complained of pain. Instead of performing an x-ray or MRI scan, the medical staff diagnosed him with a simple urinary tract infection. They failed to take into account his history of back problems due to ankylosing spondylitis. If they had, the hospital would have discovered Downes had a fractured spine.

To rectify the situation and get the help he needed, Professor Downes sought help from the medical negligence legal team at Irwin Mitchell. According to Tim Deeming, an associate solicitor for Irwin Mitchell, hospitals often fail to provide adequate responses when patients get hurt due to medical mistakes. And sadly, Downes’ story isn’t the only story to surface.

A 22-year-old South London hospital patient died as the result of dehydration caused by neglect. In 2010, a surgeon operating on a 42-year-old accidentally ruptured an artery when he operated on the wrong disk. No one noticed and the patient died as a result. Not all medical mistakes have had such terrible outcomes or causes, however.

Outside organizations have discovered active errors such as operating on the wrong limb or prescribing the wrong medication are quite common. The latest BMJ Quality and Safety study suggests errors of omission are a major concern. Helen Hogan of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found a lack of attention and a failure to perform due diligence when prescribing medications were common causes during an earlier study on NHS medical negligence cases.

Preventing and Dealing With Medical Negligence

The NHS constantly strives to reduce errors and it’s not alone. The NHS Litigation Authority helps resolve medical disputes, but it also investigates NHS risks and standards in an effort to improve patient care. As a result, the NHS regularly introduces new programs, standards and technology. The adoption of Human Factors practices and principles for example, has led to the optimization of medical devices and workplaces. The improved NHS Hospitals Complaints System makes it easier to use complaints and mistakes as a learning tool.

The NHS Confederation, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and National Voices completed a report that has led to improvements as well. They looked at ways the NHS can get more value from its budget and improve patient access to special care. They have also suggested ways to improve patient transition between services and the efficiency of basic NHS processes such as payment systems. The GP Technical Specification document released in May 2013 standardizes the way GP practices collect and share patient information.

Errors are a terrible thing, but they are inevitable. By working with the NHS Litigation Authority on their own or with the help of a medical negligence solicitor, however, it’s possible for something good to come out of them. Patients can get the help they need and the medical community can take steps to prevent it from happening again.

[Millie Whitehead passionately studies medical law. She often blogs about common legal concerns the public has about the health care industry.]

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