Many people believe that as a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin became President of the United States of America. Although it was often used by Mark Twain, the phrase ‘The only two certainties in life are death and taxes’ actually originates in a 1789 letter from Benjamin Franklin to a French scientist. One of the founding fathers of the United States was expressing his concern as to the high levels of morbidity in fledgling America.
In 2013, persistently high death rates are being investigated in 14 separate NHS Trusts. As a clinical and medical negligence lawyer, I regularly deal with families concerned over allegations of insufficient pre-operative treatment and a failure of doctors to take responsibility over care and supervision of their subordinates which continues to put patient’s lives at risk. Between 1789 and 2013, we seem to continue to experience a shortage of senior and suitably qualified doctors.
I have previously criticised the number of consultants working at night or during a weekend, where it is common-place for patients to be left in the care of junior doctors. A doctor recently complained in the national press that his own care level was ‘unsafe’ as he was expected to look after 30 seriously ill patients at any one time.
A number of NHS Trusts currently face investigation over the classification of deaths within their hospitals. By re-categorizing deaths to be as a result of a terminal illness, rather than poor care, hospitals can actually reduce their statistical death rates. In investigating a claim for medical or clinical negligence, careful examination of the medical records is necessary to examine issues such as coding. A death recorded as being ‘palliative care due to a terminal illness’ would not result in a statistic for an avoidable death following a failure to diagnose or treat cancer.
So whilst Benjamin Franklin’s statement remains true in the 21st century; that despite advances in medicine – death still remains unavoidable, but we must ensure that a Hospital Trust correctly records the actual cause of death for a family member.