Clinical Negligence Cases Could Rise as Brexit Risks NHS Staff Shortages

Following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, staff shortages in NHS trusts across the country could be set to worsen, prompting concerns that standards of care could drop, and that some patients might suffer substandard treatment.

In a climate where clinical negligence is more likely, one might reasonably expect the volume of compensation claims to increase.

EU Doctors and Nurses May Leave the UK

The NHS Confederation is currently coming to terms with the myriad of implications of leaving the EU, one of which is that European doctors and nurses may now be put off working in the UK, compounding staff shortage problems and worsening the NHS recruitment crisis that is already taking its toll on a number of the country’s trusts. In the weeks following the UK’s Brexit vote, the confederation (which represents health service managers) has released figures indicating as many as 130,000 EU health and care professionals currently work in the NHS, constituting 10% of our doctors and 5% of our nurses. The confederation’s European director; Elisabetta Zanon, issued the following statement to the BBC:

“There is a real risk the uncertainty and the falling value of the pound will make people think again. If that happens, we could see shortages in some key areas get worse…”

NHS ‘Short of 50,000 Front-Line Staff’

The concerns over staff shortages are very real, with the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee releasing figures in early 2016 indicating that the national front line services in health provision could already be short of as many as 50,000 staff, in a clinical workforce ideally totalling around 800,000. As we discussed recently, this shortage of front-line staff could be a key factor in the poor performance of NHS medical response teams, and, given the already-overstretched nature of UK healthcare services, stifling the number of people potentially able and willing to work within them may have a negative effect on care standards. Rates of late diagnosis or misdiagnosis could accelerate, as could instances of poor / substandard care, potentially leading to an increase in the number of people claiming clinical negligence compensation. Initial reports may already indicate that NHS Trusts are having difficulty recruiting key staff, with a recent West Yorkshire EU recruitment drive producing poor results.

Commenting on the issue, clinical negligence solicitor at Blackwater Law, Dominic Graham, said:

“Shortages in front-line NHS staff has direct and serious implications for the level and quality of care received by patients. When staff are under increased pressure, attempting to manage an increased and potentially unrealistic workload or regularly working overtime to cover gaps in shifts, mistakes are more likely to happen.

“There have been numerous examples at Trusts across the country where staff shortages have been the main contributor to clinical negligence incidents. But where effective action to fill staff shortages is taken, quality of care can quickly be restored to a safe level.”

Medical Research Capabilities Could Suffer

Additional concerns have also been raised in relation to the NHS’s medical research capabilities and restrictions on the care Britons might receive abroad, now that cooperation with other European nations is likely to be curtailed. This in turn could affect our understanding of new treatments, and expose patients to undue risk in situations where new practices are not implemented promptly or safely.

Lord Lansley; a former Health Secretary and now Tory peer has labelled the medical research community “distraught”, and issued the following statement at a London conference devoted to the issue:

“The EU may not tell us how to manage our NHS, but it impacts in many ways…If we don’t have enough people coming from the EU, our care sector cannot deliver.”

With the full impact of Brexit on our healthcare standards and provisions yet to be determined, in makes sense to be aware of the possible implications for you and your family. As a patient receiving care, or if you have a family member receiving care, you should not hesitate to question the medical professionals providing the care on the decisions they have made, the diagnoses they deliver or the care path they recommend. If you would like a second opinion on a matter, speak to your GP about your concerns and whether it is possible to be referred to another specialist for a second opinion.

If you feel the treatment you have received under the NHS falls short of your expectations, or if you or a family member has suffered undue injury or illness as a result, you may be entitled to make a compensation claim. Call Blackwater Law clinical negligence solicitors today on 0800 083 5500, and make sure you access the specialist legal advice and support you need.