Letter: Medical mistakes

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your proposals for dealing with what you rightly regard as "the scandal of medical compensation cases" (leading article, 21 July) are unrealistic and make no attempt to deal with the major injustice of the present system.

In most situations where the possibility of negligence occurs, it is just not reasonable to expect health authorities to admit liability rapidly. It is unusual for there to be clear evidence that disability has occurred because of negligence. So many other factors need to be taken into account, including especially inevitable medical and surgical failures in procedures that do not always succeed even in highly competent hands. Delays in settlements are also inevitable because, as you say, it may take years for the level of disability to become established.

Instead you should target the gross injustice of the disparities in the financial fortunes of those where negligence has been established as a cause of disability and those where it has not. At the present time, fine and often very difficult judgements determine whether an individual receives millions of pounds or a pittance.

As the Pearson Commission recommended many years ago, the issues of financial support for disability should be separated from the establishment of fault and negligence. All people with disability should receive allowances permitting a reasonable quality of life. The amounts they receive should vary with the level of disability, and change if this varies. This would remove the need for the stage payments you recommend.

Possible negligence by health professionals should be carefully investigated and appropriate action taken if it is proven. Information concerning the conduct and findings of such investigations and action taken as a result of them should be available to the public.

Professor PHILIP GRAHAM

London NW5

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