Clinical Negligence Claims And Weekend Care
3rd July 2013
There are frequent news reports claiming that death rates spike over the weekend in NHS hospitals and that people are more likely to be the victim of clinical negligence if they’re treated at the weekends or admitted in the night-time.
Unfortunately, this reflects the experience of our medical negligence solicitors. People who are in hospital over the weekend regularly receive a standard of clinical care that falls below the standards they receive over the weekend. Medical emergencies in the middle of the night can be ignored and wards can be dangerously understaffed outside of normal working hours.
If you’re going to fall ill, don’t do it on the weekend!
Most people are completely unaware of how significantly healthcare standards in hospitals drop during the night-time or over the weekend. Generally staffing levels drop, and staff that work at this time are usually inexperienced. This means it can be hard or impossible to find a specialist or consultant to deal with difficult and challenging cases.
Although it is always possible for medical staff to bring in consultants or to speak with senior doctors, workers can often be reluctant to disturb these professionals when they’re off-duty, as this involves calling them at home or asking them to come in the work. Furthermore, some doctors can be too inexperienced to recognise that they need an expert’s help during complicated cases.
If you require an operation or specialist treatment, you might find that you have to wait until a weekday until you can be seen to. While hospitals should never allow someone to become seriously ill because it is the weekend, but this happens all-too-often.
This problem is reflected in death rates. Statistics indicate that the risk of dying from certain conditions in NHS hospitals increases by approximately 40% over the weekend. While two in ten people with atherosclerosis who are admitted to hospital on a weekday will die from the condition, this rises to almost three in ten over weekends.
Similar problems are seen in other serious illnesses, including abdominal aneurisms and pancreatic cancer. People who are admitted with these illnesses over weekdays have a significantly higher likelihood of recovering from their condition than those who are admitted over the weekend.
And it’s not just death rates that indicate the problems with weekend care in the NHS. People with less serious diseases and personal injuries face longer recovery times and spend more time in hospital if they are admitted over the weekend. Staff can be tired or fatigued late at night and can commit clinical negligence as a result of this. Medical professionals face the same problems as other workers and can be distracted or frustrated when working during antisocial hours or can be reluctant to exert themselves unnecessarily.
Can we resolve this problem and reduce clinical negligence claims?
It is unlikely that this situation will ever change, and if it does it will not be for many years. It is not feasible to have every NHS hospital fully-staffed 24/7. Hospitals should have protocols in place that can ensure patients are stabilised and treated when they need assistance, and that ensure people can be seen by a nurse or doctor at any time of the day.
The government has previously suggested ensuring that the NHS offers a full service throughout the year, including over weekends and overnight, but budget constraints made this impossible. This has led to patients suffering from clinical negligence and people facing serious health problems and even death.
Instead, the UK needs a healthcare system that offers scheduled, planned procedures during regular working hours but has the flexibility needed to provide operations at any time of the day. People should be able to receive the medical care they need at the time they need it.
Until this occurs, people who have a choice in the matter should try to go to hospital during the week, preferably on a Monday. Although this doesn’t mean you should panic if you have to go to accident and emergency on the Friday night before a bank holiday, it might mean that you should pay greater attention to the care you receive if this happens.
However, understaffing and overworking is no excuse for clinical negligence. People who have been the victim of medical negligence over the weekend or overnight have the right to claim personal injury compensation just like everyone else. Medical negligence solicitors have dealt with countless cases involving patients who have been admitted to hospital over the weekend and have had to wait for several days to receive emergency treatment or to have their illness diagnosed.