NHS faces £4.3bn Legal Bill for Clinical Negligence Claims

Alarmingly for its bosses, the National Health Service has continued to face escalating compensation claims and legal bills to settle medical negligence cases against it. Following a year of continued settlement payouts running into six and seven-figure sums, the organisation’s managers are becoming increasingly worried. In news reports broadcast and published by the BBC and ITV, based on data provided in response to a freedom of information request, the total number of claims against the NHS initiated by patients now exceeds 10,000 a year.

According to the disclosures, the total funds allocated to deal with outstanding and estimated claims comes to around £86 billion, almost two-thirds of NHS England’s entire annual budget for the financial year 2018-19 of £129 billion. To defend these cases, the public healthcare provider might incur associated legal costs as high as £4.3 billion. These startling figures include existing unsettled claims, along with the projected estimates for future cases.

NHS Resolution is also concerned. As the body responsible for negotiating with and agreeing on settlements for patients who have suffered negligence and other medical blunders, its officials are now wrestling with the effects of high payouts from healthcare funds. Given budgetary limits, the sums might detract from the precious financial resources necessary to meet future patient care demands.

Similarly, the Medical Defence Union, the organisation that supports doctors at risk of litigation, shares these concerns. It has called for extensive reform of the current system.

Patients’ Representatives Speak Out

In contrast, a spokesperson for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers considered that the rising cost of claims had come about after a series of blunders, coupled with failures to meet adequate safety standards. Its spokesperson Suzanne White cited instances of negligence in which the patient, parent or representative had, unfortunately, found it difficult to get proper answers from hospital bosses.

As a result, patients and their families had seen themselves left with little option other than to seek legal redress. Understandably, some simply wanted to find out what happened to cause the injuries, seek explanations and prevent recurrences. Significantly, although around only a tenth of new claims relate to obstetrics, such cases have given rise to half of the compensation payouts. This disproportionality is because children injured at birth tend to require a lifetime of care.

Patients’ representative Peter Walsh, chief executive of the Association Against Medical Accidents, added his voice by accusing government officials of having adopted a cynical and short-sighted approach. In his view, cases of patient harm did not receive the proper investigation they merited.

In turn, the Department of Health countered that it did not see any decline in the level of patient safety. A spokesperson commented that care standards were higher than in many other countries, but so were compensation payments.

Set against this backdrop and conscious of the need to reduce expenditure on legal fees, NHS Resolution is attempting to increase the use of mediation services in its dealings. Currently, more than seven in ten claims for compensation from the service reach a settlement with the patients concerned without going to court.

Support for Clinical Negligence

Fortunately, most medical treatment and procedures are free of incidents and lead to positive outcomes. However, if you or a dependant has suffered as a result of negligence, you may be able to claim compensation for NHS negligence. To discuss your possible case with a sympathetic and experienced legal adviser, please contact us today. All calls are in confidence.