Sky News was seriously cross this morning.

Their intrepid reporters have discovered, presumably after a lengthy investigation that personal injury law firms are ‘flouting the ban’ on advertising their services in hospitals. Those PI parasites are taking ambulance-chasing to a whole new level and have flashed enough cash at 40 NHS trusts to persuade them to sell their souls and collude with the enemy.

Predictably, the comments below the line are full of frothing anger-mongers calling for an end to all compensation claims, presumably safe in the knowledge they will never be victims of negligence themselves.

Just a couple of issues, if I may.

First is that the ‘ban’ on advertising is nothing of the sort. The article on Sky’s website itself admits advertising in hospitals is not illegal and is merely frowned upon by a routine series of impotent Department of Health guidelines.

The next problem is this story is hardly new. The Gazette reported 18 months ago that contracts existed between NHS trusts and PI firms and were upheld by the 2006 Compensation Act. Really, there’s nothing to see here apart from fresh righteous indignation.

And forgive me for cosying up to the parasites, but what really is wrong with advertising in hospitals?

We’re not talking about PI lawyers donning white coats and shoving doctors out the way for a chance to exploit patients – these adverts are leaflets or posters, discretely tucked away for patients to pick up if they want.

Generally people are in hospital for a reason. Unless it’s self-inflicted there may well be someone to blame and you have every right to make a claim, just as insurers have every right to contest it.

This advertising merely takes the water to the horse and saves them the journey. Let’s not be naïve – if you’ve been to hospital with an injury, you’ll be well aware of your right to make a claim. If a PI firm wants to advertise in hospital, we should applaud their marketing nous and be pleased they’re pumping money into NHS coffers at the same time.

It may seem perverse that PI advertising is happening in a hospital which you could, in theory, sue if it is negligent in your care.

But most agreements prevent you from making a claim against the NHS trust through the advertising firm, and ultimately it’s down the hospital not to be negligent in the first place.

Plus, the more unsavoury elements of the PI world would find a way even if the rules changed. A ban on advertising will only encourage the dreadful prospect of cowboys getting into hospitals through underhand means. At least this way everything is above board and the patient is in control.

If the government wants to ban advertising, it should do so. But until then, these types of ‘investigations’ are merely highlighting the legislators’ own weakness, dressed up as attacks on perfectly legitimate practices.

John Hyde is a Gazette reporter

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