Patient safety, choice and the law: news round-up
John Tingle, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, discusses some reports on patient admission and discharge that have important patient safety and legal implications
Reports of long patient waits in emergency departments and long waiting lists for NHS treatment often appear in national and local media. These problems have plagued the NHS for as long as I can remember. Various initiatives have been put in place to deal with the problems. The issue of hospital discharge and the freeing up of hospital beds also frequently hit the headlines.
One of the insurmountable problems the NHS faces is that it is called on to meet an infinite demand for its services with finite resources. It also needs to meet a growing demand as a result of advancements in treatment and care. As our population gets older, more care needs arise as people present with more complex, multiple conditions. Difficult decisions about how scarce NHS resources are allocated must inevitably be made.
People who feel that they may have been wronged by a particular NHS resource allocation decision can access the courts to try to resolve the dispute. There is a well-developed legal framework on NHS resource allocation, judicial review, human rights and negligence going back many years. A seminal case on the topic, which could well form material for a nursing law and ethics study day on resource allocation and hospital discharge, is University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v MB  EWHC 882 (QB).
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