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02.02.18

NHS organisations urge government to ‘stem the tide’ of rising litigation costs

Urgent action is needed to reduce the spiraling costs of medical negligence claims, health bodies have warned.

Last year medical negligence claims across England cost the NHS £1.7bn.

A letter coordinated by the NHS Confederation has urged the new lord chancellor and justice secretary, David Gauke, to bring forward reforms in the handling of clinical negligence claims.

The call follows a change to the way in which compensation payments are calculated last year.

The confederation claims that this “discount rate” from 2.5% to -0.75% has pushed up compensation payments in personal injury cases where there is an element of future care costs and earnings.

The letter, which is signed by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, British Medical Association, the Family Doctors Association, the Medical Protection Society, the Medical Defence Union and the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland, says that compensation must be balanced against the ability of society to pay.

“This is money that could be spent on frontline care,” the letter reads. “Given the wider pressures on the healthcare system, the rising cost of clinical negligence is already having an impact on what the NHS can provide.”

The confederation argues that frontline hospitals pay around 2% of their income in clinical negligence claims each year, with the values of pending claims standing at a “staggering” £65bn.

Earlier this week NHS England revealed that hospitals will no longer be permitted to provide office or advertising space to law firms who encourage patients and relatives to sue the NHS.

The letter continues: “We welcome the decision made by the Ministry of Justice to develop and consult on proposals to reform the discount rate.

“These would help to make sure that the rate more accurately reflects the way in which most claimants choose to invest their compensation payments.

“They would help to create a fairer system for all concerned.

“It is vital that these changes are brought in as quickly as possible, either as part of the Civil Liability Bill or through a single purpose bill.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation described the rising cost of clinical negligence as “unsustainable”, adding that huge amounts of NHS resources had been diverted for legal costs when it could have been better used on providing quality care for patients.

“The time for action is now,” he stated. “That is why at the NHS Confederation, we have joined forces with a range of interested organisations to urge the new lord chancellor to act.”

A ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “All personal injury victims should of course be fully compensated, but the costs involved should also be proportionate.

“To help ensure this happens, we have set out proposals for a fairer way of setting the personal injury discount rate, as well as asking the Civil Justice Council to look at measures to control costs in clinical negligence cases.”

The letter follows an NHS Confederation roundtable on 11 January which called for action to reduce the burden of litigation.

Top Image: Andrey Popov

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