Is Medical Negligence on the Rise in the UK?

Summation

  • The figures published by NHS Resolution indicate a rising cost of negligence to the health service as a whole, with the government forecasting a significant rise in claim costs in the future.
  • The result is a higher concentration of vulnerable people receiving inadequate or improper care, and an increase in the likelihood of a negligence claim being lodged.
  • Medical negligence and the compensation of victims is litigated via civil claims and handled on behalf of the NHS by the litigation body NHS Resolution.

The UK’s healthcare system was once a world-beating one, offering pioneering levels of care to the British public at no up-front cost. The NHS has consistently been used as an example of public healthcare at its best, and it enjoys an extremely high level of popularity amongst the UK population. But things have changed in recent years.

Today, the NHS is quite publicly in trouble. Standards of care are falling, waiting lists are growing longer, and, crucially, concerns are being raised that negligent care could be on the rise. Is this true, and what could be impacting the potential rise of medical negligence in the UK?

The Cost of Medical Negligence

Medical negligence and the compensation of victims is litigated via civil claims and handled on behalf of the NHS by the litigation body NHS Resolution. The figures published by NHS Resolution indicate a rising cost of negligence to the health service as a whole, with the government forecasting a significant rise in claim costs in the future. According to a parliamentary report on NHS Resolution’s reporting in 2021, negligence claims amounted to 1.5% of the entire NHS budget, and were set to rise further. But why?

The 2023 NHS Strikes

One of the more obvious candidates for rising negligence in care has been the recent NHS strikes, conducted by junior doctors, nurses and paramedics. The strikes were called in favour of achieving pay parity with 2008-9 NHS wages.

Concerns have been raised that instances of negligence with regard to misdiagnosis or delayed treatment could skyrocket, as a result of staff unavailability through strike action. Crucial surgeries and consultation dates have already been re-arranged on account of strike action, to the detriment of those remaining on waiting lists for treatment.

However, these concerns fail to recognise the central premise behind the NHS strikes. While NHS staff pay is the headline issue over which strikes are taking place, their purpose is not individual financial enrichment; rather, the strikes recognise existing threats to healthcare, in underfunding and the wicking-away of talented doctors and nurses to other nations or private healthcare firms. Negligent care as result of the strikes only adds to a much larger systemic failure against patients, caused by underfunding and poor management.

Aging Population

A more general reason behind the possible rise in negligence cases across the country lies in the make-up of its population. Not only is the population growing, but also aging. According to recent ONS statistics, over 11 million people in the UK are over the age of 65.

The more complex needs of the average older citizen serve to increase strain on an NHS unable to expand its care equitably. The result is a higher concentration of vulnerable people receiving inadequate or improper care, and an increase in the likelihood of a negligence claim being lodged.

 

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