The emergency services in Scotland are being stretched to their absolute limits, with the number of beds in Scottish hospitals falling for a fourth successive year, with a 2% overall drop – that’s 324 beds. Patient numbers, however, continue on an inverse curve, with more than 6,000 people admitted to hospital this year than in the previous year.
Average bed occupancy levels currently sit at around 87%, with 85% recommended to ensure patient safety. The problem with the Scottish NHS is so bad, in fact, that this summer, patients were left queuing on trollies for spaces to become available.
In such a climate the government is being labelled as negligent and the opposing sides of the aisle are (as ever) casting the blame in each other’s direction. Scottish Conservation health spokesman Miles Briggs argues that “The SNP have been warned for years about Scotland’s expanding and ageing population, yet they’ve not addressed staffing levels, nursing and consultancy vacancies are at a record level, and now we learn bed numbers are dropping.” Scottish Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton also adds: “Persistent delays to discharge have a domino effect on all hospital departments left to pick up the pieces.”
With over 1,000 people needlessly stuck in hospital at any one time when they have already been declared able to leave and many more left without a bed, medical negligence claims are on the rise. Indeed, outstanding claims have risen three-fold since 2016.
The cost of negligence claims is also soaring, with an estimated £640 million in open claims left outstanding at the tail end of 2018. If the crisis continues then these numbers are only going to continue to escalate until the Scottish NHS collapses under the weight of its own debts.
South of the border in England, there have been proposals to completely overhaul how medical negligence claims are handled with new simplified liability tests, fixed compensation levels and the introduction of a bespoke tribunal system. This is being spearheaded by Sir Rupert Jackson, who feels this could mitigate a little of the stress that negligence claims are putting on the NHS.
The real problems, however, is at the source. If there are more sick patients than there are available beds, then those patients are not going to receive the care they deserve and will be that much more likely to file a medical negligence claim.
With an increasingly airing population, the problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon and with doctors and nurses put under more and more stress, mistakes will inevitably be made. The proposed reforms made by Sir Rupert might indeed make a difference and should certainly be considered by the Scottish NHS, but the problem might be more complicated than we give it credit for.
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