Emergency patient fatalities contribute to more than 90% of the UK’s total hospital deaths, according to the long awaited NHS report on 14 ‘problem trusts’ published in July.
There are ways patients can minimise the risk to them when visiting Accident and Emergency departments, but first let’s take a look at the situation…
I recently wrote about medical negligence seen in A&E, where I cited a statistic from The Sunday Telegraph, worth noting again at this point:
During 2012/13, there has been a 66% increase in the amount of people waiting longer than two hours to be transferred from an ambulance to A&E, compared to figures recorded in 2011/12.
Now the Keogh report has come to the surface, we have further insight into the reasons why certain A&E departments across the country are failing.
Staffing levels are evidently the key factor. In the report, absence was found to be too high and there seemed to be a common over reliance on agency workers across all 14 trusts referred to in the report.
As a former nurse I can assure you that every healthcare professional, whether temporary or permanent, considers the wellbeing of each patient to be of paramount importance. But like in any workplace when a team is stretched there is only so much they can achieve.
Funding to the NHS continues to drop in real terms at the same time as greater expectations are placed upon it in terms of access to treatment, the quality of care being delivered and the type of procedures being offered. It is therefore hardly surprising that care in some hospitals has declined and problems happened.
The NHS is now taking action to ensure all of the investigated hospitals review their staffing levels to optimise safety. Still there have been concerns raised that this group of 14 is just a ‘snapshot of poor performers’ throughout the country.
Mistakes can always be made in A&E but there are ways in which you can help improve your own experience as a patient.
Three steps to minimise risk in A&E departments
1. The ‘triage stage’ is where a nurse or medical professional assesses the severity of your injury. If you’re vague in describing your symptoms at this stage, the assessment of priority may be inaccurate.
Advice: Include as much detail as possible in your initial conversations.
2. Any conditions you may feel are unrelated to your injury may still play a part in how quickly you need to receive treatment. Medical staff will often ask you about allergies etc. but there is always a chance they could omit this crucial part of your diagnosis.
Advice: Tell the medical professional about any allergies or conditions you suffer from as soon as possible.
3. Sometimes miscommunication can lead to a serious or even fatal misdiagnosis. If for whatever reason, you do not feel confident about explaining your injuries – ask a friend or family member to talk on your behalf.
Advice: Always try to take somebody with you to A&E for help and support.
How to complain following poor medical treatment or care
Working in a hospital is highly challenging and mistakes can be made that result in inadequate patient care.
If you’ve experienced this first hand, you have a right to ask that the matter be investigated. You also have a right to do this if you feel a friend or family member has suffered due to a lack of care.
You have two routes to go down here:
- Raise a complaint with the hospital (it’s not recommended to raise complaints with individual workers). Use the patient advice and liaison service to find the official complaint channels for the hospital or medical practice in question.
- If you are unhappy with the Complaint system or have lost confidence in the hospital’s ability to assist contact a medical negligence solicitor for professional legal advice. Many patients do this when they have lost faith in the hospital and need justice by way of compensation.
In any genuine case of medical negligence, complaining is not only your right, it is vital. By highlighting the issue, the hospital can then work to resolve it for you and prevent any repeat cases in the future.
Restoring a high standard of care…
Following the release of the Keogh report, the new chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards, has called for people ‘from all walks of life’ to make up a team of inspectors, who will investigate every single hospital in England by 2015.
The ‘hit squads’ will include both medical professionals and patients. So hopefully we will start to see a reduction in A&E waiting times, and more importantly, a return to the traditionally high standards of care within our National Health Service.
Charlotte Farrell is a solicitor within Spencers Solicitors complex injury team and deals with claims arising from medical negligence. Charlotte initially qualified as a nurse before retraining as a clinical negligence solicitor in 1999.