Inquiry launched into rising clinical negligence costs
The Health and Social Care Committee has launched a new inquiry to examine the case for the reform of NHS litigation.
The inquiry is being launched against a background of significant increases in costs, as well as concerns that the clinical negligence process fails to do enough to encourage lessons being learnt which promote future patient safety.
Figures show that in 2020/21, £2.26bn was spent from the NHS budget to settle claims and pay legal costs arising from clinical negligence claims. A further £7.9 billion was spent on compensation from claims settled in previous years, meaning that over £10bn of money was spent on clinical negligence claims which could have been spent on patient care. The total potential liabilities arising from all negligence claims made up to the end of 2020/21 was £82.8bn, increasing by about £5.7 bn every year.
Commenting, Dr. Rob Hendry, medical director at Medical Protection, said: “We welcome the new Health and Social Care Committee inquiry examining the substantial cost of clinical negligence claims to the NHS and the case for legal reform. The annual cost of clinical negligence to the NHS has risen by 156% over the past 10 years and from the £2.2bn paid out during 2020/21, legal costs accounted for £600m (27%) of that bill. In lower value claims it is not unusual to see lawyers' costs exceed the compensation awarded to claimants. The increased cost of clinical negligence claims also significantly impacts on the cost on indemnity for healthcare professionals who are not covered by a state-backed scheme.
“It is right that we question whether such costs are sustainable for the NHS, and whether this amount of NHS money should be spent on lawyer fees.
“A package of legal reforms is needed to control spiralling costs and help to strike a balance between compensation that is reasonable, but also affordable for the NHS and society. But we also need to make continual improvements in patient safety to prevent adverse incidents, and get to the heart of what patients hope to achieve through litigation. While some may seek financial redress, others want an apology or to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again – and the Committee is right to examine whether the current system facilitates this open, learning culture.
“The Government committed to publishing a strategy to tackle rising clinical negligence costs in September 2018, and while we recognise it currently has more pressing priorities, we must not lose sight of this; at a time when the NHS needs every penny it can get, tackling these costs becomes all the more pertinent. We hope this inquiry will help to keep the issue high on the agenda.”