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Clinical negligence claims cost NHS over £1bn last year

The NHS paid out over £1.08bn in damages to claimants for clinical negligence last year, NHS Resolution’s first annual report has this week found.

Formerly known as the NHS Litigation Authority, the organisation revealed that though the number of new negligence claims had reduced by 2.5% from the previous year, the cost of claims for damages went up by 14% (£132m) from 2015-16.

When other costs were added on to the £1.08bn, the NHS paid out £1.7bn during 2016-17, up from £1.5bn in 2015-16.

The organisation also said that an area for focus over the past year had been in managing maternity claims to better support staff, but despite this 50% of new claims had been in this area.

It also found that the amounts paid to the lawyers of claimants was rising too. In 2016-17, £498.5m was paid out to lawyers for clinical claims, a 19% rise from the previous year.  

“Our review highlights the extent of the financial challenge that negligence presents to the NHS,” said NHS Resolution chief executive Helen Vernon.

“This year we launched our new five-year strategy, ‘Delivering fair resolution and learning from harm’ which sets out how we will tackle the multiple drivers of claims costs and how we will work with our partners to help prevent harm from happening in the first place.

“By supporting NHS trusts to be candid and manage concerns fairly and openly when things go wrong we hope to jointly deliver the learning which goes hand-in-hand with any claim for compensation.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of NHS Confederation, said that the NHS could not go on like this, paying millions of pounds to clinical negligence claims.

“What is more the decision by the last Lord Chancellor to change the way compensation claims are calculated is about to make the costs even higher,” he added.

“The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that this decision alone will cost the public sector an extra £1.2bn a year. According to one report, as a result an NHS trust saw the cost of one claim go from under £4 million to more than £9 million.

“It is madness that we are now paying out sums greater than almost any other country in the world, when we have a universal, government funded system of healthcare.”  

Emma Hallinan, director of claims at the Medical Protection Society, stated that it was worrying that the cost of claims continued to spiral, with costs for indemnity rising by 98% since 2010/11.

“It is important that there is reasonable compensation for patients harmed following clinical negligence, but a balance must be struck against society’s ability to pay,” she continued. “If the current trend continues the balance will tip too far and the cost risks becoming unsustainable.

Legal reform is required to strike a balance between compensation that is reasonable, but also affordable – this includes the introduction of a limit on future care costs based on a tariff agreed by an expert group and fixed recoverable costs for claims up £250,000 to stop lawyers charging disproportionate fees.”  

“Given the pressure on the NHS and the change to the personal injury discount rate - which has significantly increased the NHS’ provisions for future clinical negligence costs – there has never been a more pressing time to tackle this issue, alongside continued work to enhance patient safety,” Hallinan concluded.

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