A freedom of information request has revealed that 43% of medical negligence claims against the NHS are settled only once court proceedings are issued.
During the last year, 5,795 medical negligence claims against the NHS were settled by the NHS Litigation Authority – 2,514 (43%) only after court proceedings were issued. Inasmuch as the proportion of claims settled at a late stage of litigation may be a cause for concern, the fact that the 43% of claims accounted for 76% of the NHLSA´s legal costs last year has angered certain elements of the legal industry.
In recent weeks, several national newspapers have published articles criticising “grossly inflated and morally questionable” legal fees paid to lawyers by the NHSLA – one newspaper alleging that lawyer´s legal fees are costing the taxpayer £1.5 billion per year. During 2015/16, the NHSLA actually paid legal costs for medical negligence claims against the NHS of £418 million.
One leading legal professional – Stephen Webber, chair of the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers – has hit back against the front-page offensives in the media. He told the Law Society Gazette that the NHSLA´s failure to admit liability was extending the length of time it took to settle medical negligence claims against the NHS. “The NHSLA is defending cases too long and increasing costs”, he said.
The timing of Mr Webber´s counter-attack against misleading headlines is possibly deliberate. The government is currently conducting a consultation on proposals to limit recoverable costs for medical negligence claims against the NHS – proposals that lawyers are strongly opposed to due to the risk that claimants may be denied access to justice.
However, a spokesman for the NHSLA told the Law Society Gazette that Mr Webber´s interpretation of the data was itself misleading. He said that court proceedings can be issued for some medical negligence claims against the NHS to avoid claimants being time-barred from recovering compensation by the Statute of Limitations or because an agreed settlement for a child requires court approval.