NHS leader commits to admitting liability earlier for medical mistakes

The Chief Executive of a leading NHS Trust has stepped up to the plate and taken a stance against the ‘stringing out’ of medical negligence claims by hospitals. Stuart Poyner of the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership has made a public commitment that his Trust will admit liability as early as possible in situations where it is clear that a mistake has been made, and is encouraging a culture of openness and transparency.


Admitting liability saves money for the NHS

This is welcome news and a position that we, as medical negligence lawyers, hope other Trusts will adopt. Why? Because the behaviour of the Defendant is one of the most significant factors affecting the costs incurred in pursuing a medical negligence claim.

In not admitting liability until the eleventh hour, the NHS drives up the costs of litigation, especially if the case ends up proceeding to trial. The claim becomes more complex, requires more investigation, necessitates more expert opinion and takes longer to go through the legal process; all of which results in it costing more to achieve access to justice for the person who has been injured.

Importantly, the person who has suffered also has to deal with the stresses that litigation brings; and the longer the case drags on, the more stressful this can become. Especially for those struggling to cope with the consequences of the mistake – such as having to take time off work or having to pay for care or special equipment – and facing the prospect of further treatment.

Given that the NHS spends roughly £1.3billion annually on litigation claims, admitting liability earlier could make huge savings. Even better, tightening up on safety saves money on treatment, bed budgets and litigation costs.

The NHS has a moral responsibility

The NHS has a legal duty of care towards all of its patients along with a moral responsibility to be accountable for its mistakes and willing to change to help improve patient safety. It is not about taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong, opening the floodgates for spurious claims and a hefty bill for payouts – one of the arguments put forward to explain the NHSLA’s (seemingly) automatic defence of every claim. It is about ensuring that patient safety is paramount and that ‘never events’ (of which there were 300 last year in England alone, including 123 incidents where items like swabs or medical instruments were left inside patients after surgery) simply do not happen.

People make mistakes

After all is said and done, doctors are human and people make mistakes. Accidents happen. However, medical negligence often occurs through inadequate procedures, protocols not being followed or because of gaps in skills and training. It is vitally important that incidents are acknowledged, highlighted and measures implemented to reduce the likelihood of the same thing happening again to someone else. This can only come about if a Trust is willing to learn. The first step in learning from a mistake is to admit when you are wrong.

A clear message on transparency

The good news for the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership is that, as well as calling on the board at the Trust not to ‘defend the indefensible’, Mr Poyner has appointed an Ambassador for Cultural Change to help develop more open-ness within the organisation. She is Helene Donnelly, the nurse who blew the whistle on the failings at Stafford Hospital.

This sends a clear message that, at least in its intentions, this Trust is trying to take a more proactive and transparent approach to how it handles complaints and claims. Let’s hope others follow suit.


If you or a loved one have suffered because of medical accident or negligent treatment, please call us on freephone 0808 115 6189 or email us to see if we can help. A selection of case studies of successful claims can be found here.

Posted 24th June 2014 | Posted in News,Uncategorised