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Clinical Negligence and Overcrowded A&E Departments

Overcrowding and the consequential delays at hospital A&E departments can cause serious risks to patients. Patients who endure delays, for example, can sometimes suffer irreparable damage. The Sunday Times Health Editor, Shaun Lintern, recently reported that thousands of ‘patients suffered moderate or severe harm due to delays’ in NHS A&E departments and offered the opinion that when expressed, at its simplest, deaths are being caused by the ongoing situation.’

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, but it remains a serious one for patient safety. In 2022, NHS Resolution, an arm’s length body of the Department of Health and Social Care whose purpose includes providing expertise to the NHS to resolve claims fairly, produced a report and thematic review looking into clinical negligence claims involving Emergency Departments in England.

NHS Resolution’s review of ‘High value and fatality claims’ Report 1

Key metrics of the review included the point that, in the previous 10 years, emergency medicine occupied either first or second position each year in terms of the highest number of claim notifications to NHS Resolution. In 2020/21, claims involving emergency departments accounted for 11% of the total number of claims notified and 5% of the value. The total of claims equated to £322 million.

Five main themes with respect to the issues identified emerged from the review:

- diagnostic error, including missing signs of deterioration;

- failure to investigate and/or diagnose along with missed, incorrect and delayed diagnoses;

- failure to recognise the significance of repeat attendance or patients not re-attending when advised to do so;

- delays in care, including speciality reviews and missed therapeutic options;

- problems with communications and cross-speciality team working.

While Emergency Departments in England were regarded as ‘very safe’ overall, the report recognised that each ‘claim represents an episode of harm’. The missed diagnosis was identified as a key theme common to all the high-value incidents investigated as part of the review, particularly for spinal and cerebral injury. Missed diagnosis, for example, for sepsis and pulmonary embolus, was also a common factor in the fatalities evaluated.

At Graystons Solicitors, we specialise in medical negligence and have investigated negligence claims for many patients involving errors or on the basis that more timely treatment would have prevented their injuries.


If the above has resonance with you or a loved one and you have any concerns about the treatment received, please call us on 0151 645 0055 or by email at


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