Health Check: A high price for the NHS

THE CALL came late on Thursday evening as I was preparing to go home. "Would you be interested in a medical negligence case?" asked a woman's voice.

I admit that my heart sank. Like all health reporters I am a target for aggrieved patients wanting to tell of the crimes and misdemeanours of the NHS. Invariably there is too much detail and too little proof, and the cases are repetitive.

I gave my standard response. Would she like to set down brief details on a single sheet of paper and send it to me? "So you are not interested," she said. I paused. I don't know why I relented - perhaps it was her flat Yorkshire vowels, or her matter-of-fact delivery. "All right," I said. "Tell me, as briefly as you can."

The Independent was not the first newspaper she had called. Others had responded as brusquely as, at first, had I. But as I listened I realised this was a story worth telling. The case of Patricia Briody, who gave birth to two stillborn children and had her womb removed before the age of 20, who spent 15 years in ignorance of what had happened and then a further 10 fighting for compensation to pay for, she hopes, two surrogate births, appeared in yesterday's newspaper.

Mrs Briody had an abnormal pelvis, which was too narrow to allow her to give birth naturally. That might, just, have excused her doctors when her first pregnancy ended with an emergency Caesarean and a stillborn child. But when it happened a second time, with disastrous consequences (an emergency hysterectomy), it looked like culpable carelessness. She was childless, barren and still not 20 years old.

Hers looks like a cast-iron case for compensation and 25 years later that is what the courts have agreed. And yet, and yet. She was offered, and turned down, first pounds 60,000 and then pounds 100,000. If her final award were twice this sum - which is unlikely - it would still be small compared with the pounds 2m and pounds 3m awards made in the last year. But, as with all negligence claims, when the huge costs of the case are added in, it remains a major drain on the NHS.

For, make no mistake, justice for Mrs Briody is bought through the imposition of a tax on the sick. The cost of meeting claims like hers is rising at pounds 100m a year and now tops pounds 300m a year - pounds 300m that is paid out of the NHS budget and would otherwise be available to improve run-down hospitals, train more obstetricians and improve maternity care.

Mrs Briody argues, with justice, that when you look at the sums awarded in libel actions to minor celebrities who have suffered nothing worse than a blow to their pride, pounds 100,000-plus for the loss of a family seems a paltry sum. But in a public service like the NHS should not different rules apply? Negligent staff should be penalised and injured patients compensated, but though the award of punitive damages may salve the consciences of those responsible, it can only harm patients who come later, by depriving them of already limited resources.

Yesterday marked the launch of a new, fast-track process for dealing with medical negligence claims which should help to stem their ferocious growth and improve satisfaction for damaged patients. Some measures should be simple to implement. If Mrs Briody had had an apology and a full explanation 25 years ago, she would have been saved a lot of pain, and the NHS would have been saved a heavy bill.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent