The NHS is a unique infrastructure success, not just in the UK but on an international scale. Its accessibility sets a global standard, as does its average quality of care – but beneath the surface, issues with funding and administration are having deleterious impacts on care. Medical negligence is a present danger in practically every healthcare system, but what are its costs in the UK?
The Human Costs
While the financial impacts of medical negligence are most well-publicised, and are indeed discussed in more depth later on, there is a more fundamental set of costs brought about through negligent care: human ones. Negligent medical care in whichever form it takes has near-incalculable costs to the individuals unfortunate enough to experience it, and to the families of those same individuals.
These costs start with inconvenience and discomfort, where adequate care is delayed and more appointments are necessary to eventually right the wrong. In more severe and time-sensitive cases, though, the misdiagnosis of a cancer can lead to reduced life expectancy or even unnecessary loss of life. This is to say nothing of the life-altering impacts that surgical errors can have, where victims are no longer able to live life as they remembered it.
The Financial Costs
The real, human costs of medical negligence should always take centre stage in discussions about ailing standards of care, but it is impossible to discuss negligent care without too discussing its financial impacts. For one, negligence increases medical expenses, potentially to individuals through subsequent private healthcare but also to the taxpayer via NHS costs – more on which shortly.
Financial costs are also brought about in a more direct way, through legal expenses and settlements in civil court. Victims of medical negligence are rightfully able to seek compensation for their experience, which can represent upfront costs for all parties and sizeable sums in settlements.
Costs to the NHS
Where the NHS is the healthcare system responsible for individual instances of negligent care, it is the body that answers to civil claims – and pays out compensation via independent legal body NHS Resolution. According to recent NHS Resolution statistics, provisions kept aside for potential legal costs and settlements in relation to legal claims amounted to nearly £70 billion in 2022-23.
More generally speaking, NHS negligence places undue pressure on other healthcare professionals within the NHS, between larger workloads and diminished trust on the part of patients. At a time where the NHS is at greater risk of collapse than ever, this is unhelpful additional pressure.
The UK’s healthcare system remains world-leading, in spite of its negligence statistics and the incredible costs associated with negligence across the board. Still, the above represent major problems for a system on its knees through underfunding and poor management – illustrating a vital need for systemic change.