New homes for Cornwall could lead to more medical mistakes

Thu 25th May 2017

With more than £17million allocated to new homes for Cornwall, Rachel Pearce from Coodes Solicitors’ Clinical Negligence team considers the impact on our hospitals and says more housing could mean more medical mistakes.

No-one living in Cornwall can fail to notice the surge of new homes being built in the region. In the Government’s New Homes Bonus allocations for 2017 to 2018 Cornwall Council has been given the second highest allocation – more than £17million. Last year saw 2,785 new homes being built in Cornwall. These will of course provide much-needed accommodation for local people, but what will be the impact of a growing population on our health services?

Against a background of all these new homes is growing concern about the future of our minor injury units and cottage hospitals. All 10 of Cornwall’s minor injury units are threatened with closure and could be replaced with a smaller number of walk in centres. I cannot see how a reduced service can be sustainable in light of the South West’s growing population. Our minor injury units prevent a number of unnecessary A&E visits. In a region that is mainly made up of disparate rural communities, often connected by country lanes, local hospitals provide a vital service.

As a lawyer who specialises in clinical negligence I strongly believe that the result of the growing population and reduced service will be that more mistakes will be made. With minor injury units closing, more people will use the already-stretched A&E departments of our big hospitals. We will have to wait longer to be seen, so treatment will often be delayed. Staff working in A&E will be under pressure to work faster and put in longer hours to meet demand for the services.

The impact will not only be felt by people who need emergency treatment. There will be a knock-on effect on diagnoses and routine operations. This, sadly, will mean that preventable emergencies will arise through treatment being put off too long.

Many of the cases we deal with at Coodes involve people who have suffered injuries through being given the wrong treatment or being left waiting for treatment. Whether it is a missed diagnosis, delay in treatment or being given the wrong medicine, communication between staff and between teams breaks down when people are under pressure. Hospitals are increasingly forced to rush people through to free up beds and this can be a recipe for mistakes being made. Sadly we often support bereaved families whose loved ones would still be here if it had not been for a completely preventable mistake.

In recent years we have seen a sharp increase in mistakes being made. Surgical mistakes more than doubled from 285 in 2013-14 to 740 in 2015-16. In that period, the number of cases that NHS England reported a patient with deteriorating receiving ‘sub-optimal’ care also more than doubled. Delayed diagnoses or staff failing to act on test results rose from 654 to 923.

Our doctors and nurses do an amazing job, but they are only human and all humans make mistakes when they are under too much pressure. This is not about blaming individuals but facing up to the fact that our hospitals will be expected to serve more people with dwindling resources. The prospect of so many more homes in Cornwall is yet another threat to the quality of our health services.

For advice on any of these issues, please contact Rachel Pearce in the Clinical Negligence team at Coodes Solicitors on 01326 318900 or

Thu 25th May 2017

Rachel Pearce

Head of Clinical Negligence & Personal Injury

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