By Simon Wilson, medical negligence expert and senior solicitor at Neil Hudgell Solicitors
As a Clinical negligence lawyer who every day encounters clients who’ve been let down by the NHS, the news that patients in England cannot rely on information on waiting times for non-emergency operations, such as knee and hip replacements, is not a surprise.
The findings have been published by the National Audit Office which found wrong and inconsistent recording of information after reviewing 650 cases in seven trusts. According to the BBC, the watchdog said it was unable to discern whether this was deliberate, but overall the practices concealed delays rather than over-recorded waits. The government has said the issue would be investigated.
This all makes sobering reading and whilst I have no direct experience of patients who’ve died or whose condition has worsened dramatically through NHS failure to meet waiting list targets, I have worked for clients whose suffering has been prolonged because they haven’t had access to the treatment they need within the waiting time specified.
What’s more, a lack of clarity over waiting times must impact on the costs involved in treatment. A patient’s symptoms may have developed and require more intensive and prolonged care if there is a delay in treatment. Or, in some cases, care will have to be sub-contracted to a private outlet, incurring more expense for health trusts.
This latest question mark over the reliability of data on waiting times all adds to the view of many that the NHS is not open and honest with patients in line with the duty of candour obligations set out in the Francis report in the Mid Staffs enquiry.
As a medical negligence expert, dealing day to day with clients let down by the NHS, I am constantly astounded by the persistence of the culture of cover-up and secrecy. It’s a dispiriting situation, especially when one is aware of the many occasions when teams and individuals, particularly on the clinical arena or in the lower levels of admin and support working within the NHS, often do an amazing job for many patients.
True, I only see the consequences when treatment and care go wrong. But I know that many of the mistakes would not have happened or that many errors could be sorted out more quickly and cost-effectively if the NHS as a whole was more open and honest and that must include providing accurate information about waiting times.