Posted by Ali Cloak, Associate
How can we reduce the cost of claims against the NHS? Ensure they follow recommended guidelines for group B strep
On 3 December 2018 Group B Strep Support (GBSS) published its report entitled “The cost of group B strep infection”. The charity is dedicated to eradicating group B strep (GBS) infections in babies, and their report makes a number of recommendations for achieving this aim whilst also saving the NHS money.
Group B Strep Support have conducted a survey of 32 recent legal cases concerning confirmed or suspected GBS infections where a settlement had been reached. In doing so it identified a number of common themes and situations amongst the cases which are enlightening for those in the medical as well as legal profession.
The failures which cause Group B Strep infection
In undertaking the study, Group B Strep Support identified three main failures that led to clinical negligence claims.
These failures are:
- a failure to follow either local or national guidelines
- a failure to escalate cases appropriately
- missed signs of infection either in hospital or reported by parents.
The simple fact is that if measures were put in place to address these issues then instances of GBS infection would drop, as would the number of associated clinical negligence claims. Group B Strep Support recommends improving compliance with the national guidelines on GBS produced by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and improving training. This would ensure that GBS is prevented and treated wherever possible.
Improving compliance in this way is vital to reducing clinical negligence claims against the NHS. In order to prove a clinical negligence claim it must be shown that thetreatment provided to the patient was substandard and that this resulted in injury or a worse outcome. It is not possible to bring a claim where the treatment provided has been appropriate..
Complaints which cause clinical negligence claims
The report also identifies three main factors that drive people to make clinical negligence claims in the wake of a GBS infection. These are:
- dissatisfaction with investigations or the handling of a complaint
- clinical failings around the time of birth leading to issues emerging later, e.g. a child not meeting developmental milestones
- a need for financial support for the continuing care of a disabled child.
Addressing these factors would also help reduce the number (and therefore cost) of clinical negligence claims brought against the NHS as a result of GBS infections.
Many of the families that participated in the GBSS survey said that they had experienced delays and denials when making a complaint, which left them feeling that the only way to move forward was to make a clinical negligence claim. Group B Strep Support recommend changing complaints procedures to ensure that NHS Trusts communicate openly with parents and involve them fully in investigations.
The families who experience the impact of GBS infection are often dealing with stressful situations and this is not helped by putting them through a difficult complaints procedure. It is hardly surprising that this frustration leads people to begin clinical negligence claims.
The recommendation is entirely consistent with the Duty of Candour principle. In theory, the Duty of Candour obliges every healthcare professional to be open and honest with patients when something that goes wrong with their treatment or care (in any specialism of medicine), but unfortunately I see many instances where this is sadly not borne out in practice. A more supportive, constructive process would likely reduce the feeling amongst families that their concerns are being downplayed or dismissed unfairly and therefore make them less likely to seek legal action to obtain the answers or acknowledgment they seek.
Claims arising from negligent management of GBS result in enormous cost to the NHS to compensate the victim for the injuries suffered and the additional financial expenses they will have during their life, such as for care and other therapies.
The Group B Strep Support report contains really valuable insights for NHS Trusts. Enacting the recommendations, most of which come with little or no associated cost, would no doubt reduce the financial cost to the NHS and, even more crucially, the recommendations would mean less families are affected by catastrophic injury or even death caused as a result of GBS infection.
If you have any questions about claims for Group B Strep infection, please get in touch with our team today.
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