The National Audit Office has announced it is to investigate the rising costs to the NHS of medical negligence litigation. Alan Mendham – a Partner at Gadsby Wicks Solicitors – has welcomed the news, saying that the review will help to show the significant savings that the NHS will make if it changes how it views and handles claims.
Learning is key to improving patient safety
Alan cites a culture of denial within the NHS and a failure to learn from its mistakes as key to the cost problem.
“Medical negligence claims have doubled over the past decade, and costs have spiraled,” he says. “In 2005/6, medical mistakes cost the NHS just over £665million. Ten years on, it is setting aside a staggering £56billion1 to cover legal costs and compensation payments to people injured in its care.
“This is nearly half the NHS entire budget, much of which could be better spent if the NHS focused on preventing the same mistakes happening over again. We see similar themes cropping up time and again in the incidents experienced by our clients. If hospitals were better at sharing learning – both internally and between Trusts – many of these mistakes could be avoided.”
NHS loses over 75% of the claims it takes to court
Research from The Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers (SCIL) estimates that the NHS ends up paying compensation in more than three quarters2 of the cases that it contests in court. Many cases will be similar to those it has lost before. This raises questions over how thoroughly the NHS assesses the likely success of a claim before deciding to defend.
“In many cases, if the NHS admitted liability earlier and settled the claim, the legal costs would have been drastically reduced” Alan continues. “Aside from this, patients and their families would be spared the unnecessary additional stress caused by a claim dragging on needlessly through the system.”
Every claim is a “black box”
Alan likens a medical negligence claim to the ‘black box’ – the data store used in the airline industry to aid investigations into aircraft accidents.
“Hospitals seem reluctant to use the experiences of their patients to improve their services. Accidents, by their very nature, will always happen. However, the details of a medical negligence claim give valuable information on improvements that can be made to procedures and protocols in order to reduce the likelihood of preventable harm to patients.”
The results of the National Audit Office investigation are due to be made public in six months time.
Alan Mendham is a Partner at Gadsby Wicks Solicitors and an active member of the Society for Clinical Injury Lawyers (SCIL) – a representative body for medical negligence lawyers that campaigns for patient safety.
- NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA). Figure adjusted (Winter 2016) due to NHSLA revised accounting policy. Previously estimated at £32billion (Summer 2016).
- Figure includes cases where liability has been admitted but an acceptable offer has not been made until after issue of proceedings.