The NHS is for many the greatest aspect of British society and an emblem signifying ingenious British politics. That it has remained in strong stead since its birth is another cause for pride for so many Brits. However, its delight has not been without its throes and cases of medical negligence, amongst other flaws have scarred the good name of the NHS. This article will look at the controversies in the history of the NHS.
Controversies throughout its History
The first truly major controversy in the history of the NHS occurred in 1995 with the British Royal Infirmary case which boiled over with the death of Joshua Loveday. The issue was the fact that more babies were dying of heart surgery in Bristol than in anywhere else in the country.
Three years later in 1998, a surgeon and hospital chief executive were found guilty of serious professional misconduct and struck off the medical register. In addition another surgeon was suspended.
However, it was in 2001, following a report on the incidents, that led to the matter being somewhat resolved in regards to how it could be prevented.
It was initially planned that the outcome of individual cardiac surgeons’ operations would be published in a few years. This never came to fruition however, as it was deemed impractical. For the most difficult conditions are often taken up by the most skilled surgeons; therefore the fatality rate of their patients would be higher than lesser skilled surgeons. However, members of the public will still of course feel inclined to choose those surgeons with a low fatality rate. This will also lead to doctors becoming ‘risk adverse’ and choosing to generally only take on simple cases, in order to achieve lower fatality rates.
Alder Hey – Liverpool Royal Children’s Hospital
Just before the turn of the century came a shocking NHS scandal in which the organs of dead children were being retained by their hospital without the parents consent or knowledge.
Occurring at the Liverpool Children’s Hospital, Alder Hey, and emerging through evidence given to the Bristol Royal Infirmary, the story sent shockwaves throughout the nation.
What angered British citizens even greater was the way in which the concerns of parents were inadequately dealt with even after the matter had come to the public and media’s attention.
In June 2005, following an inquiry chaired by Michael Redfern QC, the former Trust pathologist at the focal point of the scandal, Dick van Velzen, was struck off the medical register and disposed of by the General Medical Council (GMC).
This next case involves failure within the NHS complaints and employment systems, and was centred on Richard Neale, a gynaecologist who worked in Fiarage Hospital, North Yorkshire, between the mid-80s to the mid-90s.
Neale was found guilty of serious professional misconduct in cases involving a shocking 34 different patients. He was accountable for botched operations, as well as operating without proper consent.
The case of Richard Neale was certainly one to get the nation’s blood boiling, with clinical negligence solicitors fighting several cases against him.
The Harold Shipman case was the most notorious and sinister of the NHS’s controversies. Harold Shipman worked as a GP in Hythe, Greater Manchester, and killed around 400 of his patients, rendering him the world’s most prolific serial killer. His patients were mainly vulnerable elderly women.
An inquiry set up under the High Court criticised the GMC for the revalidation of doctors.
The case of Harold Shipman is perhaps the NHS’s greatest low and indeed a detriment to the overseeing of GPs and doctors at the time. The sheer scale of the amount of patients he killed, points towards an extremely lacklustre approach to critically watching over employees of the NHS.
In the midst of the period surrounding the Harold Shipman case, the matter of the superbug heaped further controversy on the NHS. Outbreaks of MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant diseases were discovered to be partly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of patients.
As the matter of clinic cleanliness subsequently came to the forefront of national debate, it became clear in 2005 that two-thirds of NHS hospitals failed to meet the highest standards of cleanliness, with hygiene in mental health institutions being particularly poor.