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Clinical negligence bill tops £1 billion

Recent years have seen soaring costs associated with clinical negligence, with some well-publicised cases arising and prompting further claims. However, this year’s sum actually represents a slight drop on last year’s costs, which was just short of £1.2 billion.
The NHS Litigation Authority, the body that deals with such claims, has stated that the rising costs are not explained by falling standards. Instead, the number of patients being treated on the NHS has increased, and there is a more “positive reporting culture” which encourages patients to speak out if they are dissatisfied with the quality of care that they or their loved ones have received.
Dr Michael Devlin, head of professional standards and liaison at the Medical Defence Union, which provides indemnity insurance to doctors, commented, “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.”
The level of payouts and legal fees has prompted the government to state its intention to limit the fees that some lawyers can charge. However, the high cost of investigating a case and representing a claimant in court, along with the relatively low payouts for even serious injuries or death, means that this would very likely prevent many victims from accessing justice. There are also concerns that a "cover-up culture" has meant that cases are dragged out, increasing costs on both sides, where admitting responsibility and settling earlier and out of court would be a faster, less expensive and less stressful alternative. There have been a number of high-profile cases of birth injuries, for example, in which the costs have been particularly substantial. Tese tend to reflect not only the lifetime costs of caring for a disabled child, but also the length of the cases, which have sometimes been drawn out for years before the NHS admitted liability – meaning parents do not get closure or the answers they are looking for either.

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