The recent election campaign saw a great deal of controversy surrounding Boris Johnson’s spending plans for the NHS, as while the incumbent Prime Minister pledged to spend £33.9 billion in cash terms, this equated to just £20.5 billion in real terms when adjusted for inflation.
Regardless, there’s no doubt that the NHS is in desperate need of funding, following a decade of austerity, chronic understaffing and a sustained rise in the number of medical negligence claims.
Of course, it’s fair to surmise that many of these issues are interlinked, with a high number of clinical vacancies placing an incredible strain on existing staff members and increasing the likelihood of errors.
The Rise of Medical Negligence Claims in the UK
The numbers certainly highlight the extent of some of these challenges, with the NHS projected to pay out £4.3 billion in legal fees to settle outstanding medical negligence cases.
This is according to a BBC report, which also found that the NHS receives in excess of 10,000 new claims for compensation every year.
In total, the estimated cost of outstanding compensation claims peaked at £83 billion in 2019. To put this into some form of context, the NHS’s total budget in 2018/19 was just £129 billion, and even if this was to be increased there’s still a huge issue for the organisation to address going forward.
At the same time, there are an estimated 40,000 advertised vacancies in nursing and midwifery in the UK in 2019, while the total number of clinical vacancies is around 99,000.
As we can see, there’s an arguable and demonstrable link between the rising number of vacancies and increased negligence claims, as staff are simply ill-equipped to deal with the burden being placed on them every day.
How Can This Issue be Resolved?
Clearly, increased funding in the NHS can help to fill these frontline vacancies, improving the consistency and quality of care provided in the process.
So long as this funding is sustained and spent wisely across different departments, it can optimise the level of care patients receive and relieve the pressure experienced by staff members on a daily basis.
The government may also want to invest in technology and the rollout of electronic records to improve the communication between patients and their healthcare providers.
The reason for this is simple; as many medical negligence claims occur as a result of miscommunication and a fundamental lack of NHS support, which leaves many with no alternative but to pursue legal compensation.
Another more controversial method may see the government impose caps on the potential pay-outs for lower-value claims.
However, it’s yet to see what criteria will be used to identify such claims, and this is a measure that must be supported by increased spending and investment within the NHS.