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Is the lack of staff in our hospitals the cause of mistakes?

Published: 28th August 2017 10:41


In recent years the number of mistakes in hospital care due to human error have increased. In the 2015-2016 period, NHS England recorded 588 cases of patients whose health deteriorated due to sub-optimal care, more than double the figure for the 2013-14 period. The number of incidents of delayed diagnosis or NHS staff failing to act on test results also rose, from 654 to 923 for the same periods.


Many people blame this rise in incidents of medical negligence on staff shortages. For the last seven years, the number of full time NHS workers has increased by an average of around 0.5% per year.  However, the UK population is currently growing at a rate of around 0.8% per year on average. This means there is an ever-growing deficit between the number of people using the NHS and the number of people staffing it.


This problem has been exacerbated by record numbers of EU nurses quitting the NHS since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, as well as a significant drop in the number of people studying nursing after the government chose to abolish NHS bursaries, which many student nurses relied on to fund their studies.


Causes of medical negligence in hospitals


There are a number of reasons why medical negligence in hospitals occurs, many of which are made more likely by staff shortages.


Misdiagnosis – If doctors mistake the symptoms of a disease for a different condition, this can lead to the wrong treatment, which is unlikely to help a patient recover and can even make their condition worse.


Delayed diagnosis – Where a patient’s condition is not identified promptly, this can lead to a delay in the correct treatment being given, which can result in their condition worsening or, in extreme cases, even death.


Failure to act on patients’ test results – If test results are not passed to the right people, or if they are, but the correct action is not taken, then this can lead to a preventable worsening of the patient’s condition.


Poor quality care – This covers various issues, including failing to provide consistent care, failing to correctly monitor symptoms and incorrect discharge procedures, meaning patients are not given the information they need to effectively manage their conditions. Any of these can lead to a worsening of patient’s symptoms.


Surgical errors – Mistakes during surgery can leave serious conditions having not been correctly fixed, or the creation of secondary issues, such as damage to surrounding tissue and organs. This can lead to serious complications, which can result in additional medical problems.


Poor communication – One of the biggest causes of hospital negligence is the failure of NHS staff to communicate effectively with each other and patients. This makes all of the issues above more likely, as well as decreasing patients’ confidence in the care they are receiving.


How lack of staff increases the risks of medical negligence


The fewer members of staff a hospital has per patient, the more likely it is that mistakes and other lapses in care will occur. A lack of staff can lead to serious delays in patients being seen, as well as important procedures and other tasks being rushed or skipped entirely. It also leads to medical staff being overworked, causing them to become stressed and/or exhausted from working too many hours, making mistakes more likely.


What to do if you have been the victim of medical negligence


If you believe you have been the victim of medical negligence, whether in a hospital or any other care setting, you may be entitled to compensation. This can help you to deal with any on-going issues as a result of the substandard care you received, as well as helping you to provide for your family if you have been left unable to work.


If a loved one has died as a result of hospital negligence, you may also be able to claim compensation. This can help you to cope with the impact on your life and those of any other dependants, such as children, that have been negatively affected. Death as a result of hospital failings are also likely to result in an inquest, where there is an opportunity to understand the circumstances leading to the person’s death.


To make a medical negligence compensation claim, it is a good idea to speak to a specialist medical negligence solicitor. They will be able to advise you on the strength of your claim and the best way to proceed.

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