Hospital Overcrowding And Compensation Q&A


The Law Of… overfilling hospital wards

Analysis by the BBC has revealed that 9 out of 10 hospitals this winter are overcrowded, with wards operating at unsafe levels. Daxa Patel, Medical Negligence Partner at Simpson Millar, answers the key questions regarding hospital overcrowding.

Overcrowded wards can cause all sorts of problems and it’s the patient that suffers as a result. From a legal standpoint it is also not good for the NHS, as an already overstretched service could be leaving itself open to litigation because of complications arising from the lack of free beds.

What Is The Impact Of Overcrowding In Hospitals?

The main issue that arises from an overcrowded hospital is the increased risk of infection.

Due to the range of conditions, diseases and disorders that are treated in UK hospitals, along with the patients who, by the very nature of being ill or in recovery, are more susceptible to contracting such ailments, bacterial infections, and viruses are a constant threat, the risks of which are managed by the care procedures medical staff have in place.

Once a hospital becomes overcrowded, the systems for managing and containing the spread of infections become compromised, leading to an increased risk of assorted bugs passing from one patient to another. To help prevent this, a hospital is not meant to have more than 85% of its beds occupied at any one time. The BBC analysis shows that as of the start of December (2016), 137 out of 152 hospital trusts have been operating above that level.

Hospital overcrowding also puts pressure on already overstretched resources, with underfunding and understaffing meaning that healthcare professionals are already struggling to meet demand.

When Something Goes Wrong Due To Overcrowding, Who Is To Blame?

The maximum bed occupancy figure of 85% is what doctors agree should be the upper limit to best manage patients and reduce risks within a hospital. It is only a recommendation and there is no actual legislation making it a requirement in law. Nevertheless, the recommendation is there for a very good reason and that is to protect the safety and wellbeing of all patients.

If overcrowding impacts upon the level of care that the hospital is able to deliver, resulting in complications, infection or some degree of harm befalling the patient, then there may be a clear case of medical negligence for which the hospital could be held responsible.

Am I Eligible To Claim Compensation If My Treatment Suffers As A Result Of Overcrowding At The Hospital?

If, due to a poor level of care resulting from hospital overcrowding, you have suffered injury that has affected your quality of life, you may be entitled to compensation.

A case in 2010 – where a family won a medical negligence claim for the death of their father following prostate cancer surgery – was a direct result of hospital overcrowding, after the deceased was placed on a general ward instead of the high dependency unit his post-op recovery required.

The decision was made due to the pressures the hospital was under.

How Do I Make A Claim For An Injury Or Condition Resulting From Hospital Overcrowding?

The first step to making a claim is to seek independent legal advice from a law firm with the expertise to successfully handle medical negligence claims. You have 3 years to  make your claim, dating from when the issue either occurred or its effects were discovered.

You can also make a complaint to the hospital trust where the negligent treatment occurred. An unsatisfactory response presents the option to escalate your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsmen. A complaint should be made within 12 months of the treatment you received. Triggering the complaints procedure does not prevent you from making a compensation claim for medical negligence.

Daxa comments:

"When hospitals are overcrowded the risk of infection rises, which is good for neither patient safety nor healthcare. The knock on effect of this can be cancelled operations and delays in treatment due to the increased pressure placed upon the hospital."

"If patient treatment is determined on the basis of accommodating these pressures, as opposed to what they actually need, one of the founding principles of the NHS – that it meets the needs of everyone – is lost."

With a wealth of experience gained from winning medical negligence claims, Simpson Millar is here to help if you have suffered as a result of hospital overcrowding. To find out if you have grounds for a claim, speak to one of our team today.

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