Last week, a Freedom of Information request revealed that the NHS in England is facing £4.3bn in legal fees to settle outstanding claims of clinical negligence. The figure includes existing unsettled claims and projected estimates of future claims.
Claims for Compensation
More than 10,000 new claims for compensation are received by the NHS each year, which the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers believes is being driven by failures in patient safety. Suzanne White, from the Association, has said that people often find it difficult to get answers from the medical authorities, and are left with no other option but to sue.
“What they want to do is find out what went wrong, why they have received these injuries … and to make sure it doesn’t happen to other patients.”
Is Reform Required?
A fundamental reform of the current system is being called for by the Medical Defence Union, including a change in the way compensation is calculated, and the establishment of an independent body to assess claims. The Chief Executive, Dr Christine Tomkins, offered the following thought-provoking statement:
“This is money that should be going to healthcare, but instead is going to compensation claims – which is impairing all of our access to healthcare.”
A statement from NHS Resolution has said that even though more than 70% of claims brought against the NHS are resolved without going to Court, going to trial is sometimes necessary to ensure that public funds are not spent on compensating cases which do not have merit.
“In the majority of these cases, the NHS is successful and for every case which goes to trial, six are mediated. “
“Lawyers acting for the NHS are subject to fixed and capped fees and so have no incentive to prolong cases – quite the opposite. This contrasts with the way in which lawyers acting for patients are paid, which is on an hourly rate, regardless of the value of the claim.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman has said:
“We are committed to tackling the unsustainable rise in the cost of clinical negligence and are working collaboratively across government and the NHS on proposals, which we will set out details of in due course.”
“Our ambition is for the NHS to be the safest healthcare system in the world and it has been recognised that the rise in costs of claims is not due to a decline in patient safety.”