NHS Figures Highlight Missed Treatment Targets


The Law Of... playing hospital roulette

NHS treatment figures for June 2016 show that several key targets are being missed, including response times for ambulances and waiting times at A&E departments.

NHS Figures Highlight Missed Treatment Targets

Geoffrey Simpson-Scott, Partner in Medical Negligence at Simpson Millar LLP, evaluates the figures and discusses whether patients should be concerned about these missed targets.

NHS Missing Key Targets

NHS England's monthly performance statistics for June 2016 highlight that:

  1. 8.5% of patients wait more than 18 weeks for planned surgery
  2. 30% of ambulances take longer than 8 minutes to reach the emergency scene
  3. 9.5% of patients in A&E wait more than 4 hours to be seen and
  4. there has been a 23% rise in the number of patients experiencing delays in being discharged from hospital

These figures highlight 4 key targets that have been missed by the NHS and taken together show a pattern of sustained delays in treating patients.

Minimising Avoidable Injuries

The NHS sets these targets in order to minimise the scope for patients suffering avoidable injuries. Accordingly, any delays in providing emergency care, planned operations, or in freeing up much-needed bed space increases the risk of patients suffering from avoidable injuries.

Modern clinical governance is aimed directly at analysing the entire system in place, in order to identify any weak points. Any weak points that are identified are bolstered by a system of treatment protocols, service standards, and clinical guidelines in order to minimise the risk of individual errors causing catastrophic consequences.

This is the same system that is in place in the space and aeronautics industries and in elite sports such as Formula 1. Despite this, these latest figures indicate an ongoing failure of a system designed to protect patients.

A Game Of Russian Roulette

The missed A&E target alone means that over 185,000 patients were not seen in time. While not all of these incidents would have resulted in further injuries, it should be noted that with every missed target there is an increased chance of a patient developing further injuries.

In instances where delayed treatment causes further injury, patients should make a complaint to the NHS directly, who – under the Duty of Candour – are required to carry out a full and frank investigation into the incident, with patients receiving a detailed report of their findings. Where a report highlights that further injury was caused by an NHS failing, a sincere apology should be made.

With each missed target, the NHS increases the likelihood of a detailed investigation, which will only cause a hospital's budget to be stretched further.

Discussing the dangers of these missed targets, Geoffrey said:

"Many injuries leave patients with symptoms that affect their general health, with their ability to work or to deal with the demands of everyday life seriously inhibited. These patients are likely to need compensation to help them to live with their injuries as best they can. As such, missing NHS targets is likely to lead to an increase in medical negligence cases."

"A common misconception is that compensation payments (and legal costs) reduce the amount of money available to treat patients. In reality, the two budgets are completely separate from each other and so winning your case does not deprive others of much-needed treatment."

"Missing these targets is like playing a game of Russian roulette and is a worrying indication that the system itself is under strain. The main concern is patient welfare and it is disturbing that other safety procedures within the treatment process are not being followed."

"I recently obtained a five-figure settlement for a gentleman who fractured the scaphoid bone in his wrist at work, which is a very common injury. Had he been properly examined at A&E, he would have made a full recovery within 3 months. However, the A&E nurse was under pressure and failed to conduct a complete examination of his wrist or to advise my client that he should return to hospital within 10 days if his pain had not cleared up. She also did not make a clear written note of her examination in my client’s records."

"By the time the fracture was diagnosed many months later, my client had suffered a permanent injury as a result of the bone healing poorly. My detailed examination of his case showed that if the A&E nurse had properly examined my client, there was less than a 1% chance of the fracture being missed. A simple standard examination form in use at similar hospitals was not available and this hospital had been missing its four-hour A&E targets for a prolonged period of time when my client attended."

Getting Legal Advice

Missing targets increases the risk of patients suffering significant avoidable injuries. NHS targets are in place to minimise this risk and so it is hoped that genuine and sustained measures are put in place to prevent this happening in future.

Unfortunately, litigation is often the only tool available to patients suffering from the consequences of missed targets. Many of our medical negligence clients want to know that what has happened to them will never happen to anyone else but, sadly, we see the same mistakes being repeated time and again. These latest missed targets indicate that this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.

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