High Court: NHS must treat ill people
1 Oct 2003
The NHS may have to treat patients who are ill, according to a High Court ruling today. Mr Justice Mumble said that patients who are "ill" – defined as "a state of less than adequate health" – had a right to be treated by the NHS. The ruling does not apply to people who have previously been excluded on the grounds of violence or being a danger to staff.
Health experts today said that the ruling could have far-reaching consequences. "Up until now, there had been a tendency in some hospitals only to treat people who were in full health, as they went through the system quicker and the hospital therefore met government targets," said Dr Douglas Ramsbottom of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. "Forcing the NHS to treat people who are actually ill will require vast extra resources and could increase waiting times tenfold. Staff wages would also have to increase because of the danger of coming into contact with sick people."
In what has been seen as a major blow to government health policy, Mr Justice Mumble said that treating patients who are ill is more important than meeting government targets. "It's news to us," said a senior Department of Health source. "If this is taken literally, thousands of target-setters could lose their jobs. We haven't planned for that, let alone set targets. This is a revolution."
In related news, the government was today defeated at the Labour Party Conference over its plans to introduce foundations into hospitals. The party leadership had insisted that adding foundations to hospital buildings was "an essential safety measure" and vital for the future of the NHS, but delegates disagreed and voted it down. The government has promised to press ahead regardless.
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