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15.02.18

Lawyers face cap on costs in NHS clinical negligence cases

The government is to cap the costs that lawyers can recover in clinical negligence cases.

The fixed recoverable costs scheme will be applied to all cases up to £25,000 and a working group will be put together to establish how the cap will work in practice. The policy is expected to help to save the NHS up to £45m a year.

Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “It’s important that when significant mistakes happen in the NHS, patients are able to have an open dialogue with a trust about what went wrong, receive reassurance of what is being learnt, and can discuss what form of recompense or redress may be appropriate.

“Unfortunately, what we often see in lower cost claims is a deeply unfair system where unscrupulous law firms cream off excessive legal costs that dwarf the actual damages recovered.”

Legal costs accounted for 37% of the £1.7bn spent by the NHS on clinical negligence in 2016-17.

In one case, lawyers claimed £83,000 in legal costs for a case in which the patient was awarded £1,000.

It follows last year’s consultation on introducing the cap and was a key recommendation in a review of civil litigation costs by Lord Justice Jackson.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said that the rising cost of claims is “unsustainable” and today’s announcement is a step in the right direction.

“We fully accept that there must be reasonable compensation for patients harmed through clinical negligence, but this needs to be balanced against society’s ability to pay. Money that is used for this purpose cannot be spent on frontline care.”

Medical director at the Medical Protection Society, Dr Rob Hendry, welcomed the government’s decision, commenting: “We had hoped to see a bolder decision on the threshold with cases up to the value of £250,000 included in a scheme, however a £25,000 threshold is a positive first step – one which we hope will be reviewed and possibly increased over time.”

Top image: Sean Dempsey, PA Images

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