After medical negligence, another painful hurdle

White: ombudsman should review its complaint-handling processes

Posted by Jonathan White, Legal Director of Litigation Futures partner National Accident Helpline

A new report by the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has highlighted the pressures and pains families face in seeking justice following particularly severe cases of medical negligence.

The report, which looked at the tragic, avoidable death of a toddler, came several years after the incident in 2010.

The amount of time it took the ombudsman to complete its investigation into the case highlights the unnecessary, painful and lengthy hurdles often facing the victim’s family following severe medical negligence cases.

The case also goes to show how reliant a just outcome can be on the tenacity of the victim’s family.

According to the family whose case was reviewed by the ombudsman, the report would have looked very different were it not for their persistence in noting errors, omissions and misinformation.

Reforms requiring every patient to have a designated, named medical professional responsible for their care and the recently announced guidelines from the General Medical Council, which will require doctors and nurses to admit and apologise when they have made a mistake, will do little to console victims’ families when negligence and errors have had particularly tragic consequences.

More needs to be done to ensure those whose treatment was below par aren’t further victimised during potential legal proceedings or when seeking justice directly from the NHS Ombudsman. Although organisations such as National Accident Helpline can, and do, help victims and their families, the ombudsman must enforce change for the better where it can.

Bearing in mind the significant stress and suffering involved in instances of medical negligence and as others have pointed out, the ombudsman should review its complaint-handling processes.

It should introduce enhanced service standards, relating to speed of investigation, accuracy of outputs and quality of engagement with patients and their families. This would not only give the victims’ families some consolation that their case, and their suffering, is being taken seriously, it would also help ensure that victims’ families are listened to.

In many cases, families will have been present for most of the care cycle, witnessing the blunders and errors in judgement that had tragic consequences.

The NHS exists for its patients and their well-being. The same should be true for its ombudsman.

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