The Department of Health and Social Care have imposed a cap on legal fees in small value medical negligence claims.
Currently, lower value claims of up to £25,000 make up 60 percent of all claims and can often have legal costs exceed the sum of money awarded in the claim.
Minister for Patient Safety, Maria Caulfield MP, in an NHE exclusive said: “On average, claimant legal costs for lower value claims are double the amount of compensation awarded and there is no limit to the amount that lawyers can claim back in fees. In total this year, claimant legal fees cost the NHS £433 million – money which comes straight out the public purse”.
In statistics published by NHS Resolution, there were over 12,500 new claims for medical negligence in 2020/21, an increase of over 1,000 claims since the previous year.
Whilst there is “no evidence that the number of incidents of negligence has increased. The government’s watchdog has said it is does not appear to be related to NHS care getting worse, costs are simply going up”. Added Maria Caulfield.
“As someone who has worked on the frontline, I know the NHS is one of the safest healthcare systems in the world.
“But when things do go wrong, we must make sure lessons are learnt, and patients can claim the compensation they deserve if they’ve been harmed through negligence.
“When I became Patient Safety Minister last year, I was shocked to learn the fees charged by legal firms for some of these claims are often far beyond what the patients themselves receive in compensation.”
The cap has been introduced to tackle the rising costs of these events, which will allow for more funding to be put back into the NHS and patient care.
“We’re proposing to cap the legal costs which can be claimed by lawyers for lower value claims worth up to £25,000, which make up around 60% of all claims. We will also streamline the process to help resolve them more quickly, making it simpler and easier for patients.
“I want to be clear this will not affect patient’s compensation in any way, it will just make legal costs for lower value claims more proportionate to what patients actually receive.
“We estimate this could save the NHS nearly half a billion pounds over the coming decade.
“Of course, as a nurse I know prevention is better than cure, so alongside our proposals I am committed to improving patient safety and ensuring incidents don’t happen in the first place.
“We published the first ever NHS National Patient Safety Strategy and we are investing £9.4 million in trials to reduce brain injuries during birth, which account for around half the costs of clinical negligence.
“In the past fifteen years, the total cost of clinical negligence has risen fourfold, and the NHS paid out £2.2 billion in the past year alone. I know the public would expect us to address these unsustainable costs so taxpayers funding can be focused on frontline care and beating the backlog.
“Our new proposals will help curb the worrying trend in legal fees, while ensuring patients get what they deserve more quickly and making sure we are putting taxpayers’ funds to the best use as we learn to live with COVID-19”.
As well as the proposed legal fee cap the consultation will also include looking to streamline the legal process and make it more efficient for both the NHS and claimants.
You can respond to the consultation here which closes on the 24th April 2022.