Medical Negligence – How and Why It Hurts Us All

Doctor writing on medical sheet at his desk, with medical equipment around him.

Being a victim of medical negligence can be a life-changing and devastating experience. When we seek medical help, whatever type of help that may be, we put our faith and trust in the hands of others. The last thing we expect is that those we trust will make mistakes.

We all know that good health is the cornerstone of life itself. It’s something we all think about, say and hear on a daily basis in some way or other, whether it be in our own household, circle, or in the media. And when we depend on the knowledge and skill of a medical professional to safeguard our health and are let down, we not only suffer the physical effects of that error but the psychological and emotional fallout too.

Primary Care

Primary Care is the frontline of health care. When we are unwell our first port of call is usually our GP, or our local pharmacist, or even our dentist or optometrist. In the majority of cases, primary care produces good results, whether they are delivered at the primary care stage or following referral to a hospital.

However, a 2016 study by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) concluded that malpractice (i.e. medical negligence) in primary care is understudied. The most common cause of medical negligence is the failure to diagnose an illness, condition or syndrome, or a delay in diagnosing. But medical professionals can also make mistakes when recommending or prescribing medication, failing to refer to a specialist, or even failing to warn of the risks associated with a treatment plan.

The BMJ study also concluded that cancer and heart attacks are the most common health issues that lead to medical negligence claims. In children it’s meningitis. What these all have in common, of course, is their seriousness and the increased likelihood of mortality if not correctly treated.

The Consequences

More than ever, medical professionals are aware that malpractice doesn’t only have severe ramifications on patients and their loved ones.

Why? Because the damage caused by negligence casts a very wide net indeed – loss of public trust in the medical profession, health budgets hit by compensation paid to victims and their loved ones, rises in national insurance and private health insurance premiums, medical careers destroyed, and even over-cautiousness exercised by medical professionals in order to safeguard against the risk of mistakes being made.

What Next?

There are those who say that with the unprecedented pressures being faced by the National Health Service (NHS), the last thing it needs is an increase in the amount of compensation it pays out. I see their point, but medical negligence claims can also act as a deterrent to poor medical practice, hence improving health care overall.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the NHS is a wonderful thing, and having grown up in the USA, I know what I’m talking about! But more and more, I can’t help but think that healthcare really needs to be given the social and moral priority it deserves – not just be seen by those in authority as just one of the many competing priority issues we face.

It’s an interesting subject, isn’t it? I’d love to know what you think.

collaborative post
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