NHS negligence

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The National Health Service (NHS) has set aside £7.8 million for clinical negligence claims for the next ten years. Though the amount appears staggering, health officials say it’s only 1% of the NHS budget. The main cause of the large increase is mainly due to rising legal costs and larger and larger awards by the courts, but proposed legislation may address the situation to some extent by reducing legal costs.

The proposed NHS Redress Bill, expected to be mentioned in the Queen’s speech, will be a no fault compensation scheme that will attempt to settle most of the smaller claims, which make up the large majority of the claims, out of court. It is hoped that the proposed legislation will also have an affect on the attitude of staff at the NHS, to be more open about mistakes.

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    Currently, there is such fear of litigation that health workers clam up when mistakes occur. A more open atmosphere will encourage staff to look at the cause of mistakes and learn from them and hopefully rectify procedures that may have caused them so that they don’t happen again.

    The NHS cost for clinical negligence cases has been steadily increasing since the 1990’s. In 1996/7 the NHS paid out £1 million in compensation for healthcare mistakes. In 2001/2 that figure had risen to a whopping £696 million, the highest pay out budget to date. 2004/5 saw a slight relief with a drop to £502 million. Still Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, is not happy. He told the BBC that, “These figures are shocking. The provision for clinical negligence claims is rocketing. It is about time that the system for settling claims was streamlined. Much more needs to be done to prevent these sorts of incidents happening in the first place.”

    The Medical Defence Union (MDU) told the Daily Telegraph that the biggest problem regarding costs was the high value cases. They said that in 2004 they paid out more than £1 million in seven cases against doctors. Obstetrics is one of the most heavily burden areas with only 5% of the claims being for babies who are born brain damaged, but such cases take 60% of the budget for compensation awards and legal fees. Such cases also can drag on for years compounding the legal implications of the complaint.

    The NHS Litigation Authority deals on average with about 20,000 claims a year. On average cases are settled within 18 months.