NHS claims its new mediation service will help people to avoid court

In partnership with the Centre for Dispute Resolution, the NHS Litigation Authority [ NHSLA] has introduced a new mediation service in what they argue will be a successful way of speeding up the process for resolving NHS negligence claims. According to the litigation authority, the service will deliver a face-to-face conversation between the patient and the healthcare provider, which they claim will be supported by an independent and accredited mediator. Claimants can ask for their preferred accredited mediator and may also be able to bring friends or family to provide support. They can bring a lawyer as well, though this is not essential.

During the process, again according to the NHSLA, legal rights will continue to remain intact and either party can go forward to court if they are disappointed with the conclusion. The NHSLA states the scheme will be an independent and voluntary process for resolving claims against health authorities. Catherine Dixon, NHSLA Chief Executive, outlined the intention of the scheme, which she explained as a way of helping all the parties to meet and have their say without the requirement to go to court, which can be financially economical for both parties. With respect to information on the NHSLA website, under 2% of cases it deals with end up in court.

NHS negligence claims rocket

The expense of negligence claims has developed into a critical matter for the NHS in the last few years, with numbers for 2013-2014 showing that, of the £1.193bn devoted to clinical negligence claims, £259 (22%) was invested on claimant solicitors in contrast with £92m (8%) on defence legal costs.

What do we think of this latest plan?

The new scheme could well be of some help to those people who have somewhat minor complaints about inferior management or service in NHS hospitals. But the scheme’s strategy to replace someone’s right to representation by a specialist medical negligence solicitor is daft. The NHS will be represented by lawyers and it certainly needs to be clear to anyone that this scheme will not consist of patients, who have been victims of medical errors, meeting hospital staff on equal terms.

If mediation is to manage anything but the most straight-forward claims regarding service issues, then the levels of compensation awarded to victims of medical mistakes are likely to be significantly reduced. The patient just won’t receive the compensation they are entitled to. Patients are unlikely to have any genuine comprehension of the complex medical issues related to their care, and certainly no idea about the amount of compensation they are eligible for.

This is probably a system created out of good intentions but the driving force behind it is to decrease the NHS’ costs of litigation. Typically, the medical profession is hoping to find a way out of assuming any real responsibility for the disturbing levels of harmful practice and medical issues that continue to curse the NHS. You only have to look at the fantastic Dr Foster’s website (an independent medical research site) to understand how many hospitals just don’t implement best practice. Generally, those who end up continually being sued are those hospitals where medical staff are basically not running a hospital effectively.

The real problem is the consistently high levels of downright negligent medical care in far too many NHS hospitals.

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