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NHS medical negligence costs: who pays the price?

Medical negligence costs in the NHS are soaring and need to be addressed, but who will pay the price?

More than £433million was spent last year on defending medical negligence claims against the NHS and costs are set to rise still further.

NHS Resolution has revealed that there were over 12,500 new claims in 2020/21, an increase of over 1,000 claims on the previous year.

The government response is to impose a cap on the legal fees payable for the lower value medical negligence claims. Here, they propose to limit the legal costs lawyers can claim for cases that are worth up to £25,000. This, they say will save the NHS almost half a billion pounds over the next 10 years. However, there are concerns that it could mean many injured people miss out on the compensation they deserve because law firms simply cannot afford to run the cases.

Perhaps there are better ways to save the funds desperately needed by the NHS.

Medical negligence compensation paid in the last year alone amounted to £2.2billion. While the average settlement was £50,000, around half of the costs were for brain injuries suffered at birth, which can attract compensation that runs in to the millions.

John McQuater, specialist medical negligence solicitor, said: “We work with families whose lives have been devastated by medical negligence, but who are then subjected to years of battling with NHS legal teams simply to obtain the justice they deserve.

“We see cases that have been unjustly disputed for several years, only to be settled literally on the court steps; this is totally unacceptable for the families and unnecessarily expensive for the NHS.”

Maria Caulfield MP, Minister for Patient Safety, said: “When things do go wrong, we must make sure lessons are learnt, and patients can claim the compensation they deserve if they have been harmed through negligence.

“We’re proposing to cap the legal costs lawyers can claim ….. we will also streamline the process to help resolve them more quickly, making it simpler and easier for patients.”

John added: “We welcome any move to ensure that claims are settled more quickly. Mistakes do happen, but if fault was admitted at an earlier stage, cases would not be as protracted and there would be less need for the expensive specialist reports in litigation.

“Prevention is better than cure, we would rather see NHS funds invested in training, staff support and better facilities to ensure that these events didn’t happen in the first place.”

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