New figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions have indicated that the number of medical negligence claims against the NHS have risen by almost a fifth in the past year.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Compensation Recovery Unit is the government body responsible for recovering the cost of hospital treatment and selected state benefits from compensation settlements and, in 2012/2013, registered 16,006 medical negligence claims against the NHS compared to 13,517 in 2011/2012.
The annual number of claims against the NHS for medical negligence has now almost doubled since 2007/2008, leading the Chief Executive of the Patients Association – Katherine Murphy – to comment “I think the public has become far less tolerant about putting up with appalling failings in care, but most people only pursue legal action when every other avenue has failed.”
Her comments were mirrored by a leading medical negligence solicitor who was quoted as saying “In the past, victims of medical accidents often had moral reservations about claiming against the NHS, despite having clearly suffered extreme negligence in some cases, but the shocking findings of the Francis report have now made hospitals fair game in the eyes of the public.”
Although an increase in medical negligence claims against the NHS was no surprise in light of a series of breaking news stories concerning gross medical negligence in NHS hospitals, the size of the increase shocked Margaret Hodge – chairperson of the Commons Public Accounts Committee – who described the figures as “deeply worrying” and stated that the quality of healthcare provided by the NHS was a “major concern”.
A Department of Health spokesman said “Whilst we know the vast majority of patients get good, safe care, the best way to reduce compensation claims is to improve patient safety further – and this is a priority.” He added that the NHS has brought in a global expert, Dr Don Berwick, to provide advice on how to create “a zero-harm culture in the NHS” and reduce the number of medical negligence claims made against the NHS.