Last updateTue, 09 Mar 2021 4pm

Expert Witness Blog

It’s a busy time for the CQC

The troubled Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services across the South of England, found itself in the spotlight again last month – twice. Early in the month the Care Quality Commission (CQC) announced that the trust would be prosecuted in relation to an incident in December 2015, when a patient fell from a low roof at a hospital in Winchester.

Later, on 16 March, the trust’s remaining four non-executive directors resigned – the fifth had resigned earlier in the month. The shake-up follows a prolonged scandal last year surrounding failures to investigate deaths of patients in its care and the subsequent prolonged resistance on the part of its chief executive to calls for her resignation.

An interim chair, appointed to oversee improvements, is due to complete his appointment in July, after which a new board will take over.

The CQC has also been busy completing its first round of inspections of all the acute non-specialist and specialist trusts and has produced a report detailing its findings.

As could be expected the results were a mixed bag of good, bad, excellent and awful. Fortunately, the great majority of trusts performed well, as anyone who has had experience of hospital care recently would know. Perhaps that is proven by the fact that, when things do go wrong they are news stories.

And when things do go wrong patients expect some kind of redress. In some cases all that is needed is an apology and a recognition that there has been a mistake. More importantly, however, is the need for patients who have suffered substantial injury as a result of clinical negligence to have their needs – often long term and substantial – funded by the organisation that caused the injury in the first place. The job of acting for the NHS in those cases falls to the NHS Litigation Authority.

As with all matters regarding public expenditure, the cost of litigation by the NHS has come under scrutiny, with the National Audit Office undertaking a ‘value for money’ audit of clinical negligence cases. Alongside that, the Department of Health is consulting on measures to limit the fees recoverable in clinical negligence cases up to a certain amount. Even lawyers have acknowledged that this can be a good idea, given it does not encroach on people’s legal rights.• One area where there is a general agreement that the traditional adversarial approach to clinical negligence claims is outdated and needs to be reformed is that of avoidable birth injuries. A proposed scheme for providing timely and effective reparation for the extensive needs such mistakes can cause, without the extensive and costly rigmarole of a court case, has found favour in all quarters – providing it works!

Historically the issue of mental health has been the Cinderella of health concerns, despite recent breast-beating activity on the part of some leading politicians. Now, however, the willingness of a handful of football professionals to talk about the effect of their experiences is threatening to bring the issue to the fore. With sexual abuse in the sport taking centre stage, added to the rumblings in the cycling community regarding bullying and sexism, the subject might just get taken seriously.• All of the furore about personal injury palls into insignificance when compared with those who suffer catastrophic brain injury, leaving them unable to perform the everyday tasks many of us take for granted. The role of lawyers in representing victims of such injuries is the subject of the annual conference of North East law firm EMG Solicitors, whose series of seminars has accrued somewhat of a reputation for attracting heavyweight speakers.