NHS Delays Q&A


The Law Of... delaying treatment

As we go into winter, a season traditionally associated with putting the NHS under strain, the stories of delays affecting patient care begin to filter out. Victoria Clark, a Medical Negligence Solicitor with Simpson Millar, examines some of the recent stories to come out and answers your questions regarding NHS delays.

NHS Delays Q&A

A story highlighting the pressure the NHS is currently under is the tragic case of Beryl Styles, who, following a medical delay, died from complications associated with her diabetes. The 59 year old had to wait 3 hours for an ambulance as none were available, despite hers being a Category A (life-threatening) incident.

By the time an ambulance did arrive, she had stopped breathing and efforts to resuscitate her proved unsuccessful.

Mrs Styles' cause of death was recorded as diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication where the sufferer's insulin levels fall too low, but one that is not necessarily fatal if treated in good time.

This story ties into a report from last month that revealed the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington, which was opened in 2015, has seen 30% of its ambulance transfers take longer than 15 minutes, with 10% taking longer than 30 minutes.

Elsewhere, research conducted by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has shown that 85% of NHS trusts are not providing stroke victims with physiotherapy within 2 weeks of them leaving hospital. Of these, 20% are suffering a delay of at least 3 months and 4% are being made to wait more than 18 weeks before commencing treatment. With physiotherapy playing such a vital role in improving the quality of life for stroke sufferers, these NHS delays, like the ambulance ones, need to be tackled to prevent further suffering and tragedies.

What Waiting Times Apply To Me?

There are national targets regarding both ambulance waiting times and commencement of treatments. It is duty of the NHS to meet these targets. They are as follows:

  • Ambulance waiting time for a life-threatening emergency – Within 8 minutes
  • National target for ambulance handovers – Within 15 minutes
  • Non-urgent treatment – Within 18 weeks of referral
  • Cancer referral – Waiting list should be no more than 2 weeks

The percentage of patients whose wait for the commencement of treatment has exceeded the 18 week timeframe hit 9.4% in September of this year (2016). This marked the seventh month in a row that the 8% target figure for excessive waiting times had been broken.

With regards to ambulance waiting times, the nationwide target for urgent calls that exceed the 8 minute response time is 25%. This hit 32% in September, signifying the worst ever performance for that month since the target was introduced.

How Do I Make A Complaint If A Waiting Time Has Elapsed?

The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) provides a confidential service, offering advice, support and information to patients and their families, with officers located in your local hospital.

If you have been on the receiving end of poor service, including waiting times that have gone beyond the national targets, you can contact PALS and they will provide you with the information regarding the NHS complaints procedure relevant to your particular grievance.

Can I Take A Complaint Further?

If a delayed waiting time has affected you, the consequences of which have had a negative impact upon your life, you should seek professional legal advice.

You may have a case for a medical negligence claim, which could see you awarded a level of compensation that offers the financial support you need to ease the burden associated with your condition.

How Long Do I Have To Make A Medical Negligence Claim?

There is a time limit of 3 years from either when the NHS delay that caused your problems occurred, or from when the resulting issue was diagnosed.

Victoria comments:

"As the case of Beryl Styles sadly demonstrates, a timely reaction can be crucial when it comes to saving lives. Whether this is with regards to the response time of an ambulance or the amount of time they are made to wait for their treatment, it boils down to ensuring a patient's condition – time-critical or otherwise – is given the level of priority it requires."

"Unfortunately, NHS delays are becoming more common, with underfunding and the closure of ambulance stations making it harder for the NHS to perform effectively and offer the service for which it is renowned."

"As the winter demand on the NHS increases, one has to hope that further tragedies like that suffered by the family of Mrs Styles, don't become a regular fixture in the news."

If you believe you have received unnecessary treatment or a level of care you have found lacking and it has resulted adversely on the quality of your life, you may be entitled to compensation. For further information, contact the medical negligence team at Simpson Millar today.

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