74% of Physicians Concerned About Patient Safety Standards in 2017

A report from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) published in mid-March 2017 has illuminated a daunting level of concern amongst doctors in relation to patient safety in the coming year. 74% now cast doubt on the ability of their practice to provide safe patient practice in 2017.

The report based its findings on responses from over 2,100 RCP members from across the country, who were asked questions about delivering healthcare services, and their confidence in raising fears or concerns about how patient care is provided and the quality of care being delivered. It paints a picture of a service permanently running at maximum capacity, where the risks surrounding patient safety are perennial, and where some patients may be forced to make medical negligence claims when things inevitably go wrong due to pressures. With medical staff across the country being stretched to breaking point, the prospect of GP negligence and hospital negligence is of growing concern.

Below are some key statistics from the RCP report:

  • 78% of respondents to the RCP survey said that the demand for their services is on the rise
  • More than 50% of doctors feel that patient safety has deteriorated
  • More than a third feel that patient care standards and quality of care services being provided have deteriorated
  • 82% believe the medical workforce is demoralised
  • 84% report staff shortages in their departments

Comments from doctors described their situations as “firefighting”, “papering over the cracks” or “hanging on by their claws”. Others made statements to the effect that “I feel like I’m on the Titanic” and “55 escalation beds in operation today with no extra medical or nursing staff…Completely unsafe”. The fact these comments are coming direct from physicians themselves will be of concern to NHS management and patients.

Medical negligence solicitors and patients may be shocked at the comments made, and the conditions within which sadly it seems the same cannot be said of those within the profession, with RCP President Professor Jane Dacre setting out her response to her fellow doctors as follows:

“I am sure these figures will not come as a surprise to anyone in the room. The physicians I know, and I include myself, are optimistic, positive, can do people who produce work round solutions to intransigent problems. However, they are being pushed to their limits and no longer are optimistic about the future …We worry that there are inherent safety risks in a hospital running at full or over capacity – from an increase in hospital-acquired infections to the impact of burnout from overworked staff. Doctors and other staff need to know how to raise and escalate safety concerns…”

Alarmingly, whilst the safety concerns highlighted in the report appear to have reached fever-pitch, doctors it seems still feel limited in terms of who they can turn to in regards to reducing the risk to patients of GP negligence. NHS Trusts are supposed to appoint and promote a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, with whom GPs can raise safety concerns they have,  maintaining confidence in them to address their fears. The same report found that only one in five GPs  know who their guardian is, and that of those who did, less than a third believe the measure has helped improve transparency at their trust, with less than half feeling confident about raising issues with them.

The report also draws attention to the large volume of vacancies at medical institutions, with 52% of respondents stating that there were key vacancies at their department(s). Of these 25% had three or more vacancies, and 58% of all vacancies advertised had been posted more than once. On this Dr Harriet Gordon states iterates that:

“Workforce vacancies have become normal for some years now and given the trainee vacancies, are likely to continue. Consultants are delivering patient care, but at the expense of other aspects of their role like management and training the next generation of doctors.”

With doctors in our NHS apparently stretched to such extents, it seems that medical negligence solicitors will continue to deal with constant or increased numbers of GP negligence or hospital negligence cases, due to the challenges of the healthcare system.

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