More than £1 Billion was paid out to settle NHS clinical negligence claims in 2014/15, and the NHS Litigation Authority expect that figure to rise next year.
The cost of NHS clinical negligence claims was revealed in the NHS Litigation Authority´s annual report and is attributed to several factors, significantly – according to Chief Executive Officer Helen Vernon – that more people are being treated on the NHS.
The Authority says that it plans to work with the NHS to reduce litigation costs and to improve safety and learning, although – it was claimed in the report – that an increase in the number of reported medical incidents could be due to a “positive reporting culture”.
The amount of money that is being spent on resolving NHS clinical negligence claims has attracted a lot of criticism – not least from Dr Michael Devlin from the Medical Defence Union, who claims that the amount paid out in settlements could have funded over eight million MRI scans.
Dr Devlin blamed the “unsustainable cost” of private sector health and social care packages that claimants receive, and said: “Today´s figures only accentuate the need for a complete rethink of personal injury law”.
However, government plans to cap the value of NHS clinical negligence claims and the legal costs associated with litigation have come under attack by solicitors and consumer rights groups, who argue that limiting the amount of money solicitors can charge will restrict patients´ access to justice.
Jonathon Wheeler – President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) – said that it was wrong to blame lawyers for the cost of NHS clinical negligence claims when the fault lay with the government for failing to provide an acceptable standard of healthcare.
Mr Wheeler also had words to say about the way in which NHS clinical negligence claims are handled by the NHS Litigation Authority. He said:
“There are cases where the NHS needs to admit liability straight away and make an interim payment and then put in place some meaningful rehabilitation. If the NHS did that, then patients would get better more quickly, the damages are not going to be so much and the legal costs are also going to be reduced.”
The publication of the NHS Litigation Authority annual accounts will strengthen calls for a radical overhaul of how NHS clinical negligence claims are handled, but Mr Wheeler commented: “The NHS LA are their own worst enemy because they won’t recognise when mistakes have been made, driving up legal costs on both sides.”