According to the latest figures, last year the NHS paid out £1.2 billion in clinical negligence claims, of which £259 million was paid to patients’ lawyers.
On the Claimants’ side this would appear to be a not unreasonable return for the recovery of such substantial damages on behalf of injured patients, many of whom are left with life altering injuries requiring round the clock care. However, this view is not shared by the NHSLA.
No media coverage is being given regarding the payments made to NHSLA panel lawyers who are regularly instructed to fight valid claims even though these must also run into many tens of millions.
Nor do we see reference to the significant cost of the NHS’s own in-house “Litigation Authority” which itself is something of a legal juggernaut and contributes heavily to the costs of most clinical negligence disputes by reason it its intransigent and uncaring attitude to even the most reasonable of claims.
The NHSLA conveniently overlooks the fact that the £259k figure quoted includes significant fees paid out by Claimant lawyers to the Court Service and that it also includes 20% VAT on legal costs (circa £40m) which goes back to the Treasury. Nor is it ever mentioned that a significant portion of this sum is paid out to the medical and non-medical experts who are regularly called upon to justify a Claimant’s case due to the fact that NHSLA chooses to contest most if not all high value cases.
The Government must also shoulder some responsibility for the high amounts paid out in compensation claims due to staff cut-backs and the increase in legal costs following the introduction of the recoverability of success fees and ATE premiums from the NHS, a government initiative that was intended to fund the removal of Legal Aid from the civil claims arena although more recently the recoverability of these additional liabilities has been reversed.
The NHSLA and its panel of defence lawyers all appear to have lost sight of the injured patients, many of who are faced with years of contested litigation before finally receiving the damages to which they are clearly entitled. The NHSLA appears to be more concerned with avoiding payment for the mistakes made by hospitals up and down the country when it should instead be showing compassion for the injured patients and their long suffering families by dealing with these claims swiftly and fairly.
For many years the NHSLA and its advisers have simply failed to recognise or accept the fact that early settlement of these claims would actually result in significant costs savings.
A culture shift at NHSLA is long overdue but instead of looking at its own internal shortcomings it chooses the easy option of blaming Claimant lawyers at each and every turn for the financial woes of the NHS and the Government is happy to be persuaded by this skewed version of events.