The Sunday Times ran a story based on a public survey showing that almost 80 per cent of people thought that medical resources should have the same availability seven days a week, more than 80 per cent thought that senior doctors should be on duty in hospitals more at the weekend and over 60 per cent thought that out of hours local care should be governed by GPs.
These findings fit with the experience of Penningtons’ clinical negligence team in terms of areas where problems occur. There are many cases involving medical staff getting ‘out of their depth’ during weekend shifts and not having consultants on hand to assist them in difficult situations. Often they do all that someone of their experience could be expected to do but had a more experienced practitioner been on hand, their experience would likely have resulted in a much better outcome. This is particularly evident at weekends with labour care where complications develop.
In terms of investigations at weekends, there are numerous cases where an individual has needed a scan of some sort but scanning facilities are not available out of ‘office hours’. The delay in waiting until Monday for such services can be catastrophic in some conditions and in certain circumstances can even prove fatal – as with the client we reported on recently in the Sunday Times where a suspected ectopic pregnancy wasn’t examined. Whether or not someone needs an investigation, and how quickly, should be determined by clinical condition and not day of the week.
In relation to out of hours care, much has been written about the failings of the NHS 111 service. There are examples of excellent out of hours care but sadly there are also those who are not appropriately assessed, or are passed from pillar to post, and by the time they get the care they need it can be too late. Penningtons have dealt with several fatal cases of cardiac problems and meningitis where lack of cohesive assessment and advice was a factor in the patient not surviving.
Philippa Luscombe, partner in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons, said: “From our perspective we think these three areas are at the root of many of the claims that we deal with. The general public feel that the quality of care that they receive should not be dictated by the time of day or day of the week. Any improvements that can be made to having senior medical personnel and investigative resources available more of the time will result in better patient care. Whilst all of this comes at a financial cost, the money that would be saved in terms of clinical negligence claims by improving these areas could be significant as these themes are frequently repeated in the cases we see.”