Jonathan Wellington, Head of Clinical negligence at Watkins and Gunn, comments on the recently reported rise in the cost of compensation claims.
A freedom of information request has revealed that the NHS in England has incurred £4.3 billion in legal fees to settle compensation claims.In addition there is an estimated £83 billion set aside for outstanding compensation claims.
These are startling figures which have produced diverse comment from interested parties.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers feels that the figures are driven by failures in patient safety, and that rather than seek to blame lawyers and the patients making claims the NHS should focus on preventing mistakes occurring in the first place. Whereas the Medical Defence Union argue that fundamental reforms of the legal and compensation system are required and that these monies should be going into the healthcare system.
This subject and the costs are an emotive issue. I am sure we would all like to see the money reinvested in the NHS, but the reality is that compensation claims are vital to a large number of patients to provide the appropriate future care for victims of medical accidents. The more people injured by the NHS the more claims there will be, and the severe the injuries inflicted, the higher the compensation.
The largest amounts go to young children, grossly disabled as a result of mistakes and poor care at birth. Who would begrudge significant compensation running into the millions to provide lifelong care for families left in the position of having to care for their whole lives for a child left in that position?
In my experience, few victims who have medical accidents set out to sue the NHS for compensation. Most want answers as to why things have gone wrong and a claim for compensation tend to be the only way in which those answers can be obtained.
I firmly believe that the bill would reduce and compensation claims lessen if only the NHS were more open in their approach with victims and their representatives. In many cases, answers and apologies would go a long way to resolving matters, allied to “black box thinking” to prevent future repeats.
In most other personal injuries claims, Defendants are keen, to admit liability where appropriate and make early offers to attempt settlement. In clinical negligence cases it seems there is willingness on the part of Defendants to say as little as possible and to settle later in the process which only serves to rack up costs for all.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice.