Rising Cost of Medical Negligence Causes Alarm

NHS Trusts and other medical bodies fighting medical negligence claims have called for an overhaul to the system to try to put the brakes onto the rising number of compensation claims currently being made against the NHS.

According to the Medical Defence Union [MDU], the cost of medical negligence could easily top £1000 for every UK taxpayer if costs carry on increasing at the current rate.

After an upsurge of 18% in the number of medical negligence claims in 2013/14, the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) has had to put aside over £25 billion to pay for claims in progress and those expected to be started in the future.

There were 10,129 claims in 2012/13 and the numbers had risen to 11,945 by 2013/14. It has been suggested that increase might be due, at least in part, to personal injury lawyers who have previously dealt mainly with accident claims, rather than issues surrounding clinical care, diversifying into medical negligence work.

The MDU provides professional insurance to medical professionals such as dentists and doctors and is calling for significant changes to the way compensation for clinical errors is claimed.

These suggested changes are fairly fundamental – they include, for example, repealing the 1948 personal injury legislation which bases calculations about the cost of future care on private provision. The MDU feels that the bodies forced to pay the compensation should have the option of providing the care through public organisations.

The MDU also wants to place a ceiling on the amount which can be awarded for loss of earnings (currently set at three times the average salary) and the amount awarded for future care. According to the MDU, the highest amount for an individual claim which has been paid out to date was £9 million, and given the current inflation, this could easily double in the next seven years.

The annual report published by the NHSLA raises concerns about non-specialist firms becoming involved in medical negligence, resulting in claims being poorly investigated. They indicate that out of the £1.2 billion spent on medical negligence claims in 2013/14, 22% went to claimant solicitors and 8% to legal costs for defence.

So what to make of all this? Well, the latest figures certainly give cause for concern. However the MDU’s position clearly shows that the medical profession is not prepared to accept responsibility for their failings. The MDU’s strategy is focused on keeping the costs of medical negligence claims to a minimum rather than tackling the root cause of the problem – that too many doctors from too many NHS Trusts are making mistakes. But sadly, the MDU, like many in the medical profession, refused to see their own failings, preferring to put all the blame on others – in this case personal injury lawyers. Let’s face facts – claims for medical errors simply don’t succeed if they are justified.

It’s also worth pointing out that one of the main reasons that the cost of medical litigation is so very high, is the reluctance of the NHS, and in particular the NHSLA to deal promptly with cases – they have a long-standing history of failing to respond promptly to issues surrounding compensation claims and failing to accept responsibility in many cases at an early enough stage – which requires much more work, some of it totally unnecessary, by the defendants solicitors.

This is all about keeping costs down for the MDU and them protecting their own. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

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