Clinical negligence claims cost NHS £1.6 billion

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The annual cost of clinical negligence claims for NHS trusts has quadrupled over the last decade, a parliamentary committee has found.

The Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) report revealed that clinical negligence costs rose from £400 million in 2006/2007 to £1.6 billion in 2016/2017, “taking already scarce resources away from frontline services and patients”.

PAC MPs blamed the “disappointingly slow and complacent” government, as well as the “prevailing attitude of defensiveness in the NHS when things go wrong”.

“The lack of consistent data across the system means that the NHS still does not fully understand why some people suffering harm choose to make claims or the root causes of negligence, so it is not well placed to learn from its mistakes,” the PAC explained in its report.

“It is important that patients suffering as a result of clinical negligence are compensated and that lessons are learned but the mix of stretching efficiency targets, increasing financial pressures and patients waiting longer for treatment carries the risk of clinical negligence claims spiralling out of control without effective action.”

“The government needs to take bolder and more coordinated action to prevent this from happening.”

Commenting on the PAC report into NHS clinical negligence costs, Emma Hallinan, director of claims policy and legal at the Medical Protection Society, said: “The PAC is right to raise concerns about the rising cost of clinical negligence to the NHS. Since 2010/2011, NHS spend has increased by 12% every year on average. If spend continues to increase at the same rate, the NHS could be paying out £3 billion a year by 2021/2022.”

“We believe legal reform is needed to help achieve a balance between compensation that is reasonable, but also affordable. This must go hand in hand with continual improvements in patient safety to help prevent adverse events, and a shift to a more open, learning environment in healthcare where mistakes are routinely discussed and learned from.”

Richard Lodge, medical negligence partner at law firm Kingsley Napley, called the report’s findings “predictable”.

“Sadly, the rising bill faced by the NHS for clinical negligence is predictable whilst a culture persists of a reluctance to learn from mistakes and in-built organisational barriers to this.”

“My clients do not take delight in suing the NHS. They would much rather have not experienced life changing injuries in the first place. Often these are not one-off mistakes either and the extent to which events leading to claims reoccur is shocking to claimant lawyers like myself.”

Lodge went on to say that the combative way the NHS deals with litigation claims is also “crying out for reform”.

“Inefficiency, delay and requiring claims to go deep into the litigation process are common before settlements are reached. If admissions of liability were received earlier, there would be a demonstrable impact on the bottom line of the total litigation bill.”

“If MPs are saying that the primary way to tackle burgeoning spend on clinical negligence litigation is to learn from clinical mistakes and to put in place procedures to prevent recurring errors, then at least the problem is being recognised. The next step is to effect positive change which is, of course, the tricky part.”

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