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NHS in England told to reveal avoidable deaths data
Stuart Bramley, who has dealt with many legal claims arising from wrongful deaths, writes:
“On the surface this announcement appears to herald a welcome change. If there are 9,000 avoidable fatalities per year in UK hospitals that clearly needs to be addressed, although since there are presently no agreed criteria for what comprises ‘avoidable’ then it is probable that the real figure is much higher – NHS Trusts are more likely to omit than include borderline examples in the head-count.
However, it seems improbable that a completely clear definition, covering all possible eventualities, could be drafted so there will still be instances of a patient dying needlessly but not being included in the statistics. Perhaps the best guide to how this will work in practice is the very similar NHS Duty of Candour. My team’s clients, all of whom have suffered terribly due to medical errors, report that NHS defensiveness is still the norm, with mistakes often being not admitted until a legal claim is at the court door. Figures from NHS Resolution, formerly the NHS Litigation Authority, reveal that of those claims where denials leave the patient with no choice but to start legal proceedings, 80% are then settled out of court. This rather begs the question of why, if the evidence indicates that the hospital needs to settle cases at a late stage, they could not have done so earlier when the same evidence would have been available.
My colleagues and I who specialises in fatal accident claims will watch this development announced today very carefully. It would be extremely welcome if, in this instance, hope wins over experience.”
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