999 – can you hear me?

8 February 2017

It has recently been widely reported that Accident and Emergency departments across the country have reached crisis and are often unable to provide a level of care where patients can be seen and treated within a reasonable period of time which may be crucial in saving someone’s life or preventing further injury from occurring. Despite the £700m in additional funding from the Department of Health this wasn’t enough to halt the decline in A&E. 

There is a general consensus amongst NHS staff and its observers that the crisis has also reached dangerous levels across the primary care departments, social care and community services. It has been evident for some time that where the primary contact does not work there is a domino effect for the rest of the services.

The NHS England statistics report that up to the first Sunday of 2017, A&Es only admitted, transferred or discharged 79.8% instead of the 95% of patients within the prescribed 4 hours of arrival at an A&E.  Major or significant incidents have been declared by 15 hospitals and many ambulances had to wait for as long as 30 minutes outside A&Es for the injured to be handed over for assessment and treatment.  626 operations have been postponed.  This is an on-going situation so we are likely to hear more stories from the A&E staff and from patients who suffered as a result of this situation.

Although these statistics show the worst ever performance, 4 hours may still be too long for patients who suffered serious head or spinal injuries where urgent assessment and emergency surgery is required to stabilise and prevent further damage.  Receptionists are not trained to recognise often hidden medical problems.  We don’t yet know how many of those who were seen more than 4 hours after entering an A&E have suffered further injury because of the delay or lack of having more complex treatment, all of which includes a higher public spending.

This isn’t a novel situation.  The current, as well as previous governments have been warned of the upcoming crisis situation for years by the GPs and emergency services.

A young A&E doctor has recently told me that in addition to working in less than ideal working conditions they worry about being sued by their patients for a mistake they made after working 12 hours shifts. Claimant lawyers get no satisfaction from this state of affairs.  However, the injured and their families deserve experienced lawyers to take them through the complex legal process.

A&E crises or not, patients’ safety should always be paramount and preventing medical mistakes is crucial.  Although no healthcare professional sets out to do harm it is imperative that lessons are learned and achievable but high standards implemented to prevent serious injury and death.

This blog has been written by Dominika Flindt, Paralegal, Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury, 020 7369 3846.

For further information, please call a member of the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team on 020 7814 1200 or by emailing us at clinnegenquiries@kingsleynapley.co.uk

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