Three quarters of the public want the Government to do more to reduce the amount of legal costs that PI lawyers can retrieve in clinical negligence cases, according to a survey commissioned by the Medical Protection Society (MPS).
The MPS says that the NHS paid out £1.5 billion in clinical negligence costs in 2015/16, with legal costs accounting for 34% of that bill. Their survey, conducted by YouGov, found the 75% of respondents would like to see more action from Ministers over those legal costs. 82% did not agree that lawyers should receive more money in legal fees than the patient does in compensation, and 81% said that they supported fixed costs for lawyers.
The survey results, based on answers given by over 2000 adults in Britain, come just before the Government’s consultation on a fixed recoverable costs scheme closes.
The consultation proposes a fixed cap on the legal fees that can be charged for cases up to the value of £25,000 in England and Wales, which Ministers say could result in £45million savings to the NHS a year. But the MPS has called on Government to make a bold decision on the threshold and include cases up to the value of £250,000, saying that this would generate even greater savings for the NHS, and create a fairer system.
Emma Hallinan, director of claims at the Medical Protection Society, said: “At a time when the NHS is under increasing financial pressure, it is not surprising that so many members of the public want to see more done to tackle legal costs and keep more money in the NHS for front line care. Difficult decisions about spending in the NHS are made every day, and how we approach the spending of NHS funds on lawyer fees must be one of them.”
Hallinan used the example of one lower value case involving a delayed diagnosis of a pituitary tumour to argue that costs were disproportionate. The case was settled at £3,250, and legal costs of £72,320 were sought. The bill was reduced to £24,600 after a provisional assessment last summer.
“We fully support the introduction of mandatory fixed recoverable costs for claims of clinical negligence, and we understand the argument for not capping legal costs for the most expensive and complex claims, but we believe it is appropriate and viable to include claims up to £250,000,” she said.
“Disproportionate legal fees are still a significant issue for claims up to this value – setting the threshold at £25,000 would help, but the financial benefits to the NHS and the taxpayer would be greater if the threshold were set at a higher level.
“This scheme presents an opportunity to create a more proportionate, fairer system while generating significant savings to the NHS – it is an opportunity that should not be wasted. We urge Government to listen to the strong views of the public and be bold when making its decision on the threshold.”