NHS patient deaths to be investigated by medical examiners

Health secretary makes announcement after BMA feared doctors were being criminalised for errors

Medical examiners will investigate patient deaths in the NHS as part of changes to improve patient safety and protect medical staff from being criminalised for their mistakes.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, announced on Monday he was rolling out the appointment of the examiners across the service. The move comes after the case of Hadiza Bawa-Garba, a trainee paediatrician, convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and struck off following the death of a child in her care, Jack Adcock.

The UK has fewer doctors and nurses than many other comparable countries both in Europe and worldwide. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Britain comes 24th in a league table of 34 member countries in terms of the number of doctors per capita. Greece, Austria and Norway have the most; the three countries with the fewest are Turkey, Chile and Mexico. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, regularly points out that the NHS in England has more doctors and nurses than when the Conservatives came to power in 2010. That is true, although there are now fewer district nurses, mental health nurses and other types of health professionals.

Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, health spending increased by an average of 1.2% above inflation and increases are due to continue in real terms at a similar rate until the end of this parliament. This is far below the annual inflation-proof growth rate that the NHS enjoyed before 2010 of almost 4% stretching back to the 1950s. As budgets tighten, NHS organisations have been struggling to live within their means. In the financial year 2015-16, acute trusts recorded a deficit of £2.6bn. This was reduced to £800m last year, though only after a £1.8bn bung from the Department of Health, which shows the deficit remained the same year on year.

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