Talk of removing the right of clinical negligence victims to elect for private treatment and recover the costs of that as part of their package of compensation is startling. While the NHS has an admirable record of dealing with patients during the acute phase, those who have suffered the most serious injuries require long-term specialist rehabilitation and care which the NHS invariably demonstrates it is incapable of meeting.
Take, for instance, a client of mine who is a transradial amputee. He was discharged from his local prosthetic clinic with a prosthetic arm that was too long, too heavy, poorly fitted and which often broke down. He received no occupational therapy to teach him how to operate it.
Privately, however, I have been able to arrange an alternative model that is far superior and the necessary tuition. The outcome is a patient who will be as close as he reasonably can be to the pre-accident position.
Left with the NHS, I doubt the prosthesis would have been put to any use whatsoever, leaving him, in effect, one-handed.
Those who have suffered injuries of the utmost severity, such as brain damage and spinal injuries, rely to an even greater extent on private rehabilitation. To deny the seriously injured the right to choose private treatment would grossly undermine the most important aim of compensation – placing the injured party in the position they were in before the negligence occurred, or as close to that as possible.
Until the NHS can match the best the private sector can offer, this proposal does not even get off the ground. To tackle the rising number and cost of claims, policymakers would do better to examine ways to place the NHS on a sound financial footing, rather than looking to victims of its negligence to shore up the balance sheet.
Richard Edwards, senior solicitor, Potter Rees Dolan, Manchester