The Medical Protection Society (MPS) has said that the NHS could be paying out £2.6 billion a year in clinical negligence costs by 2022 and that urgent action is needed before the burden becomes unsustainable.
In a report called The Rising Costs of Clinical Negligence: Who pays the Price? the MPS has found that NHS clinical negligence costs have increased by 72% over the last five years.
The NHS spent £1.5 billion on clinical negligence claims last year alone – which MPS says equates to the cost of training over 6,500 new doctors. It also says that legal costs accounted for 34% of the bill. NHS Resolution has already estimated that £56.1 billion will be needed for future clinical negligence costs for claims arising from incidents that have already occurred.
It has proposed nine legal reforms in order to “strike a balance” allowing for fair but affordable compensation. Its proposals include a limit on future care costs based on a tariff agreed by an expert group; the use of national average weekly earnings to calculate damages awarded for future loss of earnings; and fixed recoverable costs for claims up £250,000 to stop lawyers charging “disproportionate” legal fees.
Emma Hallinan, director of claims at the MPS, said: “It is important that there is reasonable compensation for patients harmed following clinical negligence, but a balance must be struck against society’s ability to pay. If the current trend continues the balance will tip too far and the cost risks becoming unsustainable for the NHS and ultimately for society.
“This is without doubt a difficult debate to have, but difficult decisions are made about spending in healthcare every day and we have reached a point where the amount society pays for clinical negligence must be one of them.”
Hallinan said that the whole system legal needed to be reformed, which was why the MPS has launched a campaign called Striking a Balance to address clinical negligence costs.
“There is growing recognition from Government on the need for a more sustainable long-term solution,” she added.
“A YouGov survey also showed that 73% of the public support changes to the legal system that could reduce the cost of clinical negligence to the NHS.”
Responding to the report, Hilary Meredith, chair of claimant firm Hilary Meredith Solicitors said that it had to be remembered that if lawyers were not there to highlight the mistakes made within the NHS, then no changes would be made within the medical profession.
“We put our absolute trust and faith in the medical profession and when things go wrong it can have the most shocking consequences on our health and wellbeing,” she said.
“It is accepted that risks can occur in surgery and these to the most part are explained in full – but mistakes over and above the risk of surgery are not acceptable.
“It is up to the medical profession to ensure standards are kept and mistakes are reduced.”