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Protection for patients in private healthcare, long overdue

Olive Lewin gives her reaction to the announcement that private hospitals could face tough sanctions imposed by the government if they don't do more over safety concerns, after the Care Quality Commission found that two in five private hospitals are failing to meet safety standards

Specialist medical negligence lawyer and former nurse Olive Lewin has significant experience in bringing complex clinical negligence claims. She is particularly experienced in spinal injury, brain injury and cerebral palsy cases.
At last the government is taking action over the poor protection given to patients who use the private sector.

As a result of a recent CQC report following the Ian Paterson affair, Jeremy Hunt is considering introducing a number of measures to bring private hospital cover into line with the NHS.

At the moment, if a consultant is negligent in the private sector, the Claimant can only sue the consultant not realising that they have unwittingly signed a disclaimer on admission to the hospital, that effectively says the hospital is not liable for the consultant’s actions.

All well and good. But what happens if the consultant’s insurers then withdraw insurance cover?

The patient who has been injured, including those severely injured, currently only have recourse in suing their doctor personally. So if that patient is left paralysed, brain damaged or dead as a result of a consultant’s negligence, the current state of play means the Claimant is left pursuing an uninsured individual.

That means only recovering damages limited to what the doctor is worth, in other words taking his savings, his house and any investments.

If the Claimant who is severely damaged has a long life, then it is unlikely that the doctors personal wealth will be enough to meet lifetime costs of care, suitable accommodation, equipment and therapies.

This is so out of tune with the NHS. If a patient goes into an NHS hospital and suffers damage by way of negligence, they know they can safely recover their full level of damages.

Bringing the private sector into line with the NHS is long overdue. Of course, how insurers can ethically refuse to cover a doctor who has paid his or her premiums over many years is a matter yet to be tackled head on by the government.

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