Laurence Vick
Posted on 12 Aug 2013

David Cameron Offering a Helping Hand to NHS Staff

Michelmores' Clinical Negligence Team comment on the recently announced government bail-out for struggling A&E departments.

As the wider turmoil of the NHS continues to develop, the crisis in A&E units, which were recently likened to 'war zones' by senior doctors, has increasingly come under the spotlight. £500m has been pledged to those units in the greatest difficulty, with a further war chest of £3.8bn devoted to community care. These sums are intended to ease pressure on hospitals on-site, as well as providing home care in an effort to mitigate overcrowding in emergency units.

The way in which the £500m will be distributed has met with some scepticism. If only those units at breaking point are to receive money, what extra funding remains for development at hospitals where red flags have not been raised? And, given the on-going and systemic reductions in nursing staff across all units, to what extent does this represent an improvement, rather than an emergency measure for particularly egregious examples?

Prompt, well-resourced and efficient care, delivered by appropriately experienced staff, is a vital defence against medical accidents and negligence. Susan Underhill, a member of the Michelmores Clinical Negligence team and a former Critical Care nurse, expressed concerns about the balance between emergency and home care, and questioned the efficacy of merely fighting fires in the worst-hit units.

'Given their resources, A&E units generally carry out a great job. But staff will suffer burnout. Where you have heat-waves or other unusual events, there is a lot of pressure, not just on resources, but human pressure.'

The reality is that there will always be times when even better-staffed hospitals struggle. Bank holidays are a particularly bad time to find yourself in an emergency unit; in addition, people attending A&E for non-emergency treatment, due in part to a lack of trust in GP out-of-hours services and the 111 non-emergency hotline, are stretching hospital staff. The new funding will certainly be a boon to understaffed units, but may still prove to be inadequate.

'Aside from delays, we find that patients are often sent away from hospital when they should be kept in and monitored,' Sue says. 'Head injuries are notorious for having a quiet period, where everything seems okay, but later, bleeding on the brain can reach a critical point and become a real problem.'

Sending patients home could, she says, be partly attributable to limitations outside A&E, such as pressure on inpatient beds; but to a large extent this kind of policy is linked to major trauma teams being overwhelmed. A unit with barely sufficient staff numbers, and nothing in reserve, leaves its patients vulnerable.

If you or a member of your family have suffered an injury as a result of hospital delays and would like to discuss a possible claim for compensation, please contact Michelmores for a free initial consultation on freephone 0800 0730140.