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NHS negligence costs could rise to £15bn

5 August 2010

Action must be taken to tackle the excessive cost of clinical negligence claims, the Medical Protection Society (MPS) has said after a report by the NHS Litigation Authority estimated the health service could pay out £15bn in legal expenses over the next ten to 15 years – £3bn more than was expected two years ago.

The authority, which administers settlements against NHS trusts, also indicated in its annual report that the number of clinical negligence claims was rising. Last year 6,652 claims were submitted, a ten per cent increase on the previous year.

The report also said that claims of more than £6bn had been submitted but not yet paid out, and a further £8.7bn worth of claims is expected.

The Ministry of Justice is considering how to reduce the costs of medical negligence, with a consultation on conditional fees due in the autumn.

MPS, which provides legal advice for doctors, welcomes many of Jackson LJ’s proposals, particularly those relating to reforming ‘no win, no fee’ agreements.

Tony Mason, chief executive of MPS, said: “In the last 12 months MPS has settled its four highest-value claims; the highest costing over £8m. Increased life expectancy and the cost of care packages are significant factors, but so too are high legal costs.

“Every year we have seen a significant increase in legal costs. It is not unusual for claimant’s legal costs to exceed compensation payouts in clinical negligence cases. In some lower-value cases we see costs of five to ten times the value of the compensation awarded.

“For cases in the last five years in England and Wales, where we have paid compensation of up to £100,000, claimant legal fees were more than 90 per cent of the damages paid out.

“Patients deserve fair compensation, but we must do something to stem the tide of excessive legal costs.”

Dame Joan Higgins, chairman of the NHS Litigation Authority, said in the foreword to the report: “The increase in both the number and cost of claims underlines the urgency of finding a solution to this problem.

“A significant and growing proportion of NHS funds, which would otherwise be available for patient care, is being spent on litigation.”

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