Can The Results From Patient Hospital Inspections Reduce Clinical Negligence Claims?

medical negligence claimsWith medical negligence claims an increasing concern in the NHS following the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust scandal and other hospital negligence issues, improving standards of care in the UK’s healthcare facilities has never been a bigger concern.

One of the ways the government has been aiming to drive up standards and prevent clinical negligence compensation claims is by rolling out a patient inspection programme. This has seen patients undertake over 4,600 ward inspections nationwide at over 1,300 sites, with over 5,000 people taking part in the first round of inspections. The initiative was first announced in January 2012, with the first round of inspections beginning in April 2013, and although the scheme is voluntary, all eligible NHS Trusts are taking part in it.

While this could highlight failings before they lead to medical negligence claims, it will also enable hospitals to improve the stays of patients. The inspectors are looking at things that are particularly important to patients, so while the cleanliness and safety standards of the hospital are important, people are also checking that people receive a high standard of privacy, are treated with dignity, and enjoy tasty, high-quality food.

Detailed results of the inspections have not yet been released, but are expected to become available at the end of the month through the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Hospitals will be rated at the end of every inspection and will have to publish their responses to their rating and what they will do to improve patient experiences.

Medical negligence solicitors are in two minds about this – it might not bode well for patient outcomes if they believe they are being treated in a substandard hospital, while poor reviews could negatively impact the confidence of staff and damage their enthusiasm about their job. On the other hand, improved transparency is usually beneficial, and the hospital ratings will surely be carefully pored over by clinical negligence solicitors and legal advisors.

Can these patient inspections prevent clinical negligence claims?

While inspections can be an effective way to monitor the success of a hospital and the standards of treatment it offers, the results of the inspections must be carefully listened to and acted on. This has already happened at some hospitals – for instance, Leeds General Infirmary and St James’ University Hospital have changed their signage to help people find their way around the facilities, and have installed benches on some of their longest corridors.

However, these changes are unlikely to prevent clinical negligence claims, although they may make the experience of staying in hospital or visiting the hospital somewhat less unpleasant. Cultural changes will have to occur if the volume of medical negligence compensation claims is to be reduced and if patient outcomes are to improve.

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter has indicated that these cultural changes will occur, stating that the NHS has “embraced the need for more patient feedback”. This feedback is necessary if the recommendations made in the recent Francis Enquiry are to be realised, he added.