14 March 2002 NHS Negligence

14 March 2002

Alison Halford:

I am pleased to add my voice to a matter of great concern. As a member of the Audit Committee, I have a small amount of knowledge of the complexities of the clinical negligence process. Almost 75 per cent of UK complainants feel that the procedure is biased and unfair. I welcome the high priority that the Minister is giving to this issue and her search for a flexible approach to achieving the best model.
The Audit Committee found that almost £27 million was paid out in 1999-2000 as a result of clinical negligence, with the remaining 1,600 cases that remain unresolved in Wales alone having a potential cost of £107 million. More often than not, all that patients want is an apology at the early stage. If that could be achieved, the more costly and tortuous road of the formal complaints process could be avoided. The Auditor General for Wales also found that a large number—almost one third—of all clinical negligence cases resulted from non-clinical mistakes. This is why I am pleased that most of the recommendations made in the evaluation report centre on procedural reforms. Administrative or communication breakdown often led to mistakes that were devastating for the patient.I am also pleased that the new losses and special payments register, set up by Jane Hutt and the Assembly, will allow solutions to be targeted more accurately. I welcome the news that patients will not have to approach their GPs if they wish to complain. Fear of being removed from the register or being seen as a troublemaker is all too common. I agree with David Melding, and congratulate the Minister on keeping the more robust community health councils, rather than going down the English road of the patient advocacy and liaison service.
Presently, at the local level, we do not know how many justified complaints are turned away by medical practitioners. I would welcome a system where every complaint, even if resolved at this level, was recorded in some manner.
I would also welcome a section on whistleblowing, or some provision for staff to register concerns in a confidential and possibly anonymous way. I would appreciate hearing the Minister’s view on this, and I draw her attention to the fact that the Public Notice Disclosure Act 1998 was designed to protect whistleblowers. We all remember Alison Taylor, who was sacked as a result of voicing her fears, which led to the north Wales child abuse inquiry.Local resolution is a good idea, but it needs more structure. It is good news that staff managing complaints within GP practices will be given more training and information. We must ensure that as much information as possible is available in surgeries and hospitals to help would-be complainants.
11:55 a.m.
We all have, or have had, constituents who have suffered for years as a result of bodged operations, and being moved from pillar to post. Anything that Jane can do—as she is doing—to improve the fast-tracking of complaints would be welcome. Surely, in a perfect world, it would be possible to fast-track all complaints that appear to be genuine. Work must be done on this. We all agree that we must stop the haemorrhaging of tens of millions of pounds of public money in compensating patients for mistakes. I commend Jane Hutt for her excellent work and I support her initiatives wholeheartedly.


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