Every minute somewhere in the NHS multiple people are being put to sleep, a scalpel is then inserted into skin, a line is drawn parting the flesh and people with blue masks and glasses peer inside. The surgeons suck out fat, remove darkness and hope to pour light in. Usually everything works out OK, but sometimes people die, loved ones never wake up, children disappear. Sometimes people, young and old wake up damaged for life, whispers of their former selves. Breathing echoes of better worlds.
We all want to save our NHS, yet we are responsible for suing the very thing we love. On the one hand we love our public health service, and on the other we squeeze its throat with a fist balled in vengeance and blame culture.
In total, NHS trusts paid out over £4.5bn in compensation between 2010-2015 for medical errors. Law firms received a quarter (for legal costs), and the rest was paid to patients and families. NHS providers and commissioners ended 2015/2016 with a deficit of £1.85bn, the largest aggregate deficit in NHS history. But it gets worse…The NHS LA (Litigation Authority) estimates the money needed to settle all medical negligence claims is currently between £20bn and £35bn – almost a third of the entire NHS budget.
If I tried to drive a car with a third of it missing, I’d be left on the side of the road sitting in a car seat, holding the steering wheel while making a broom broom noise.
To put it all in perspective, the potential cost of legal action against the NHS in March 1999 was £2.4bn. In 17 years potential legal costs have increased by £32.6bn. If you hold a stethoscope against the body of the NHS, you can hear lawyers laughing and champagne corks popping.
Suing the NHS to improve it is about as logical as strapping electric nodes to the nipples of a mute in the belief that the pain caused will heal the damage to the left inferior frontal cortex of the brain, and cause the mute to speak again; it simply can’t work.
The NHS is so big it’s not backed by an insurance company: £1million paid out for a mistake is 2,500 less hospital beds, it’s 40 full time nurses. It’s 4000 ambulance callouts. Suing the NHS for money creates more overworked doctors, more tired staff and further mistakes – hence the spiralling costs. The NHS helps save our lives and in return we are trying to kill it. That’s so people.
Family members grieve for their dead and collect their NHS cheques while telling the cameras ‘we don’t want it to happen to somebody else’ – but the cheque isn’t going to bring anyone back. The cheque will only increase the risk of it happening again by stripping the NHS of much needed funds. I don’t blame the people, the families are told that the best way to ensure it doesn’t happen again is to go for the biggest pay-out possible…because then everyone in the process makes more money. But where is the evidence this approach works, or has ever worked for the NHS?
A window cleaner is a glass expert, but he can’t stop the rain coming anymore than a surgeon can stop the inevitable call of Death; but we wouldn’t take the window cleaner’s ladder away from him to make us feel better about the rain. We understand it’s not his fault that rain falls from the clouds and causes streaks on the glass. He’s just doing his job.
Why have we stopped evolving at the point where taking money away from our health service is the only option? Why does the conversation end there, when it feels like it should be a starting point? Is it not just a simple lack of imagination that we have stopped and decided money is the answer to all of our problems? How hard would it be to reject this part of American culture that has slowly dripped into the veins of our society? How can we sue something for so much more than we ever put in?
The UK government should pass a law that means financial compensation can’t be paid out from the NHS under any circumstances. Draw a line under it. In this new world, funds rewarded would be reinvested back into the area where the mistake was made, to help. More staff, more equipment. Of course, people who have suffered life-changing injuries should be compensated with whatever machines and care they need, but not with financial pay-outs.
If money is the controlling force of the NHS, then it’s about time money works for the NHS, and stops working against it. It’s about time we all get behind the NHS, instead of stealing its oxygen and then crying for someone else to give it some air.
And I get it. I understand the vengeance and the want for answers and to make someone, anyone pay. My dad went to his doctor for over a year with problems and was told each time it was blood pressure or stress (I know that doctors are private and not part of the NHS but regardless, mistakes were made out of the NHS and within). By the time he was admitted, all the NHS could do was try and slow the cancer down a bit. The NHS put a PICC line in, and the line became infected and that led to this death earlier than predicted. Before that he was sent home when he needed immediate surgery and he could have died on his toilet floor. In the end, he died a year faster, maybe more, than he should have. And he shouldn’t have died at all.
The NHS cancer specialist who set him up for the PICC line came to see us after we had been told his cancer was terminal by the lung specialist. This doctor was only a young guy. He looked me in the eye and he said he was sorry. His eyes watered and he looked away. I told him it was OK and we hugged. Should he have been sued for trying to do his job? Should the nurse who put the PICC line in be sued? Should the ward lose more than it already has? How much should be stripped away? How much do I need to take to replace the irreplaceable?
If the government made it illegal to pay finances out from the NHS we might be mad at first. Our hearts would need to catch up with the law, but in a few years time when we get sick and there is a bed for us, and a doctor, and maybe even a TV with its own remote control – then we might start to feel differently, because if the climate of litigation and compensation continue, then it won’t matter how much money is poured into the NHS because the bucket will be forever riddled with holes.
We will continue blaming the person carrying the bucket for spilling the contents, and we will rage against the machine, all while avoiding the mirror – and the truth that the holes in the bucket are put in by our pain, and our failures to let go of our dead so that others can live.
We need to love our NHS because it is ours; and like we are collectively killing it now, we can collectively save it tomorrow. All it takes is a change of heart.
DATA source: NHS Litigation authority