latest health care news

20.07.15

Cost of NHS clinical negligence could fund 8 million MRI scans

The clinical negligence expenditure by the NHS over one year could have funded over eight million MRI scans.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) said the amount paid in damages and legal costs, which topped £1bn in 2014-15, could have also been used for 73,000 weight loss operations for obese patients or 61,000 liver transplants.

A report published by the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) on Friday (17 July) showed that more than £774m was spent in damages paid to patients, with over £395m used just for legal costs for claimants and lawyers.

NHSLA chair Ian Dilks said in his foreword to the new report: “Last year we paid over £1.1bn to patients who suffered harm and their legal representatives, this coming year it will be [roughly] £1.4bn and with accumulated provisions in our balance sheet of over £28bn further significant increases are already in the pipeline. Currently over a third of what we spend each year is received by the legal profession and, as later pages explain, most of this is paid to claimants’ lawyers. One of our priorities for the year ahead is to therefore work with policy makers, other NHS bodies, clinicians and our scheme members to inform the debate on what might be done to reduce the financial burden on the NHS and increase the availability of scarce resources to the NHS and its patients.”

The MDU calculated that the figure for total liabilities is likely to double within seven years, having already more than doubled since 2009, when the total costs for liabilities was just over £13bn.

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Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, said: “The cost of care is the main reason for the staggering negligence bill. The money paid is no reflection on clinical standards, which remain high, but it reflects the unsustainable cost of private sector health and social care packages.

“We have to stop money haemorrhaging out of the NHS in compensation awards. Today’s figures only accentuate the need for a complete rethink of personal injury law.

“Patients harmed as a result of medical negligence must be compensated so they can be properly cared for. But the increases we are seeing in clinical negligence claims inflation mean compensation awards will become unaffordable. Legal reform cannot come soon enough, especially when the health service faces such tremendous financial pressures.”

In June, the Department of Health announced intentions to impose a cap on the fees lawyers can claim in medical negligence cases against the NHS.

This would save it up to £80m by fixing fees a lawyer can charge for claims of up to £100,000.

Health minister Ben Gummer MP said the proposals would reduce legal costs that reached £259m in 2013-14 – still considerably less than last year’s bill.

He said: “As it stands, the costs of clinical negligence claims can be very high. Much of this is due to some lawyers using patient claims to load grossly excessive costs onto the NHS and can charge far more than the patient receives in compensation.”

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