Happy Birthday to our National Health Service (NHS)

By John Tingle

Our National Health Service turns 70 in July and has made remarkable achievements since its inception on July 5, 1948. The NHS is quite rightly an institution to be proud of, and it is envied across the world. Admittedly, the NHS does have its problems, but these should not detract from an overall appreciation of its core value to our society.

In 70 years a lot has happened. Nursing and medicine have evolved, new treatments, and medicines have been developed to cope with new diseases, and our concept of health has also changed.

Health is no longer just the absence of disease; it’s a far more holistic concept today.

Since its inception, the NHS has had to deal with clinical negligence claims. Today there is mounting concern that the high level and costs of clinical negligence claims threaten the very existence and fabric of the NHS.

Exactly what must be done to reduce levels and costs remains a topic of intense speculation and conjecture.

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Patient Safety, Health Quality and Learning Disability

By John Tingle

Tragic stories of mental health care failings leading to injury and in some cases death have featured strongly in the English media in recent years. The reports reveal common threads such as poor resources, inadequate staffing levels, limited service availability, poor inter-agency cooperation, poor patient engagement, poor understanding of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and so on. This care area seems to largely remain a Cinderella health care service provision, existing in the shadows, with the focus being predominantly on physical acute care. There are however now welcome and firm Government commitments to drive improvement into mental health care supported by a raft of promising initiatives.

When patient stories of learning disability and autism care failings are read from several reference sources a picture emerges. Care for people with learning disability and autism can be seen to share many of the patient safety and health quality problems that beset patients who are classified as being mentally ill: Read More

Patient Safety Failings in Independent Acute Hospitals in England

By John Tingle

One thing that strikes the UK visitor to the USA is the vast array of  large public and private hospitals that exist with many having trauma and emergency rooms. Private hospitals don’t exist on this scale in the UK. Our major hospitals are public, state run NHS (National Health Service) hospitals. Independent, private acute hospitals are generally small in size, have no emergency rooms and maintain a bespoke health care provision. The focus is on patients with a single condition and routine elective surgery. The myriad number of complex multiple conditions, dementia etc that the NHS regularly face as a norm are not covered in the independent sector here with such cases being screened out. This limited focus on the type of care provided does mean that staff within independent acute hospitals have a sheltered and more controlled work remit and environment. This is a significant patient safety issue.

The Independent Health and Social Care Regulator of England, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have recently published their findings of independent acute hospital inspections. They inspected and rated 206 independent acute hospitals and the majority were assessed as providing high quality care. At 2nd January 2018, 62% were rated as good,16 (8%) as outstanding. The report contains some very positive findings on health care provision in these hospitals but also some major governance and patient safety failings were found which are very concerning.

The Independent Newspaper reported back in 2015 reported that private hospitals ‘lack facilities to deal with emergencies’, and quoted a study that found that between 2010 and 2014, 800 patients, including those referred by the NHS, died unexpectedly in private hospitals. Read More

The Health Service Ombudsman: NHS Failing Patients with Mental Health Problems

By John Tingle

Failings in National Health Service (NHS) care for patients with mental health problems is a worryingly persistent story in the English media. Many reports show harrowing and dramatic failings in NHS care provision for the mentally ill some of which result in avoidable deaths.The Health Service Ombudsman  (HSO) represents the final stage in the NHS complaints procedure and is an independent  office reporting  directly  to Parliament.The HSO carry’s out investigations into complaints  and makes the final decisions on those that have not been resolved by the NHS in England.In a recently published report the HSO reveals reveals unjust, shocking and tragic failings  in NHS care provision for patients with mental health problems.Some mental health care complaints figures are given in the report.In 2016-2017 there were 14,106 complaints made to NHS mental health trusts (hospitals) with ,65% being upheld or partly upheld by the local organisation.Case work data between 2014-15 and 2017-18 was analysed and five key themes showing persistent failings that the HSO see in complaints being made emerged from this exercise:

  • Diagnosis and failure to treat.
  • Risk assessment and safety
  • Dignity and human rights.
  • Communication.
  •  Inappropriate discharge and provision of aftercare.

The HSO also points out in the report that the other common factor in the cases examined is too frequent substandard complaint handling by the NHS organisation. This adds insult to injury, compounding the impact of failings. Read More

Another Blow to Tort Reform in Florida: Statute Allowing Defendants in Medical Malpractice Suits to Hold Ex Parte Interviews with the Aggrieved Patient’s Care Providers Declared Unconstitutional

By Alex Stein

STEIN on Medical Malpractice has recently published a survey of noteworthy court decisions in the field for 2017. This survey includes an important decision, Weaver v. Myers, 229 So.3d 1118 (Fla. 2017), that voided Florida statute allowing defendants in medical malpractice suits to hold ex parte interviews with the aggrieved patient’s care providers.

The case at bar involved a medical malpractice suit filed in connection with the patient’s allegedly wrongful death. The defendants attempted to take advantage of Florida’s pre-suit discovery statute, Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 766.106, 766.1065. This statute authorized defense attorneys to hold secret ex parte interviews with all doctors and organizations that have ever provided treatment to the deceased patient.

The Florida Supreme Court decided that this statute violates the broad constitutional right to privacy under Fla. Const. art. 1, § 23. The Court reasoned that “The ex parte secret interview provisions of sections 766.106 and 766.1065 fail to protect Florida citizens from even accidental disclosures of confidential medical information that falls outside the scope of the claim because there would be no one present on the claimant’s behalf to ensure that the potential defendant, his insurers, his attorneys, or his experts do not ask for disclosure of information from a former treating health care provider that is totally irrelevant to the claim.” The Court also clarified that “the right to privacy in the Florida Constitution attaches during the life of a citizen and is not retroactively destroyed by death. Here, the constitutional protection operates in the specific context of shielding irrelevant, protected medical history and other private information from the medical malpractice litigation process. Furthermore, in the wrongful death context, standing in the position of the decedent, the administrator of the decedent’s estate has standing to assert the decedent’s privacy rights. Finally, the Legislature unconstitutionally conditioned a plaintiff’s right of access to courts for redress of injuries caused by medical malpractice, whether in the wrongful death or personal injury context, on the claimant’s waiver of the constitutional right to privacy.”

Florida Caps on Noneconomic Damages Held Unconstitutional

By Alex Stein

STEIN on Medical Malpractice has published a survey of noteworthy court decisions in the field for 2017. This survey includes an important decision, North Broward Hospital District v. Kalitan, 219 So.3d 49 (Fla. 2017), that voided Florida’s cap on medical malpractice victims’ noneconomic damages, Fla. Stat. Ann. §§ 766.118(2), 766.118(3).

Section 766.118(2) provides that in a cause of action for personal injury arising from the medical negligence of practitioners, the noneconomic damages award shall not exceed $500,000 per claimant; however, if the negligence resulted in a permanent vegetative state or death, or if the negligence caused a catastrophic injury and a manifest injustice would occur unless increased damages are awarded, then damages may be awarded in an amount up to $1 million. Section 766.118(3) similarly limits damages to $750,000 and $1.5 million, respectively, when the injury results from the negligence of non-practitioners.

Based on the precedent laid down in McCall v. United States, 134 So.3d 894 (Fla. 2014), and discussed here, (holding Florida’s cap on wrongful-death noneconomic damages unconstitutional), the Florida Supreme Court held that Section 766.118 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Florida Constitution. Art. I, § 2, Fla. Const. The Court reasoned that Section 766.118 arbitrarily reduces the damages that may be awarded to the most drastically injured victims and that this arbitrary reduction is “not rationally related to alleviating the purported medical malpractice crisis…”

Undisclosed Arbitration Clause in the Doctor-Patient Agreement Held Unenforceable

By Alex Stein

STEIN on Medical Malpractice has published a survey of noteworthy court decisions in the field for 2017. This survey includes an important decision, King v. Bryant, 795 S.E.2d 340 (N.C. 2017), that examines the validity of a doctor-patient agreement to arbitrate disputes over medical malpractice.

A front desk employee at a surgeon’s practice provided the patient with several intake forms to complete and sign while he waited to meet the surgeon. The forms included an agreement to arbitrate medical malpractice disputes, which the patient signed without reading (together with other documents) because he believed it to be “just a formality.” After an unsuccessful surgical procedure, the patient sued the surgeon in court for medical malpractice. The surgeon filed a motion to stay the action and enforce the arbitration agreement. The trial court denied the motion after finding the arbitration agreement unconscionable. The Court of Appeals affirmed that decision and the surgeon appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Read More

Improving Mental Health Care in the NHS

By John Tingle

The Guardian newspaper recently published it’s investigation into Coroners Prevention of Future Deaths Notices (PFDN’s) issued between 2012-2017 involving people receiving NHS care for mental health conditions. The findings from its investigation are shocking; many cases deaths could have been prevented had better care been given. Some errors identified are classic patient safety errors and these included:

  • Poor communication between agencies and/or staff, non-observation of protocols or policies (or lack of protocols or policies.
  • Lack of appropriate care or continuity of care.
  • Poor record keeping, poor communications with the patient or his or her family.
  • Insufficient risk assessment  and delays.

The investigation revealed 45 cases reported by the coroner where patients were discharged too soon or without adequate support. Seventy-two instances of poor or inappropriate care, 41 cases where treatment was delayed.

Children and young people’s mental health
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the the independent regulator of health and social care in England and they have recently reviewed children and young people’s mental health services and have found significant systems failures which could well put children and young people at risk of harm. Mental health problems are the report states, quite common in children and young people with estimates suggesting around 1 in 10 being affected.

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Reproductive Negligence under Maine Law

By Alex Stein

STEIN on Medical Malpractice has published a survey of noteworthy court decisions in the field for 2017. This survey includes an important decision, Doherty v. Merck & Co., Inc., 154 A.3d 1202 (Me. 2017), featuring reproductive negligence.

This decision could benefit from Dov Fox’s excellent article, Reproductive Negligence, 117 Colum. L. Rev. 149 (2017).

The plaintiff, Kayla Doherty, visited a federally-supported health care center in Maine to inquire about birth control options. Her physician recommended an implantable drug manufactured by the defendant, the Merck company. The drug consisted of a single, four-centimeter-long rod inserted under the skin of the inner side of the patient’s upper arm with a syringe-like applicator. The drug works by inhibiting ovulation and is designed to be effective for at least three years unless the rod is removed sooner by a physician. The drug’s applicator, however, occasionally malfunctioned: it had a history of failed insertion attempts that occurred when the rod would remain stuck in the applicator following the procedure (unbeknownst to the treating physician and the patient).

Doherty was a victim of this malfunction. Read More

Failings in care for patients being treated under the Mental Health Act 1983

By John Tingle

The Care Quality Commission (CQC)  is the independent regulator of health and social care in England and they have recently produced their annual report to Parliament on how health services are applying the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) .This report, shines a very strong light on failing health care practices in mental health care relating to the  MHA. Shocking failures are revealed and the errors are compounded by the fact that the poor practices have been identified in previous reports and are long standing in nature.

The CQC state that national data from the last 25 years shows an increasing use of the MHA to treat people in hospitals. From 2005/06 to 2015/16, the reported number of uses of the MHA to detain people in hospital increased by 40%. There was a 9% increase from 2014/15 to 2015/16 rising to 63,622 uses of the MHA. The CQC can find no single cause for the increases in detention rates over the last 10 years.

The CQC once again draw attention to the persistent theme present in its previous reports of black and minority ethnic over representation figures in the use of the MHA.

The CQC found that there are still services that continue to fail in their legal duties to give patients information about their rights, verbally and in writing as soon as possible after their detention or community treatment order commences. They found no evidence that staff had discussed rights with the patient on admission in 11 % (378) of patient records that they checked. In a further inspection of 9%, (286) of records, no evidence could be found to say that patients received the information in an accessible format.

Consent to treatment

The CQC state that they have concerns about whether the patient consents, refuses consent or is incapable of consent. They expect to see capacity assessments to support views and possibly evidence that staff have considered ways in which they could help the patient gain or regain capacity. They have frequently raised concerns over whether clinicians have recorded evidence of their conversations with patients who are detained over their proposed treatment and their views. Read More