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Litigation reform could save NHS billions, argues medical defence body

Spiralling costs of settling legal claims can no longer be ignored, says MDU

Caroline White

Wednesday, 07 January 2015

Litigation reform could save the NHS billions of pounds and can no longer be ignored, the Medical Defence body, the MDU has said.

At a time when the NHS is facing unprecedented financial pressures and politicians have pledged substantial cash injections to shore it up if they get elected in May, the MDU says that changing the way in which legal claims over NHS care are settled could help divert much needed funds into frontline services.

The NHS's potential liabilities for clinical negligence claims amount to £25.6 bn.

Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive, said that the extra funding promised by the political parties—£2 billion extra  for 2015-16 from the Chancellor and £8 billion extra from the Liberal Democrats if elected in May—was very welcome.

"But when you consider that the NHS has potential liabilities of £25.6bn, and that clinical negligence claims inflation is rising at 10% each year, we think the government should take action now to stop money pouring out of the NHS in compensation payments,” she said.

"Billions of pounds could be saved through legal reforms including repeal of a 1948 law, which currently requires compensation to be calculated on the basis that the patient's future care will be provided privately, rather than through public providers of health and social care,” she continued.

"Litigation against the NHS places a huge strain on resources. Under the current system billions of pounds of NHS funds are being used to set up one-person private care arrangements for negligently damaged patients, diverting resources from NHS care,” she said.

Alluding to polls, commissioned by the MDU over the summer, she said that most of the public, MPs, and doctors agree that the future care of injured patients could be provided by the NHS, rather than the independent sector.

The key findings from the ComRes surveys of 2,070 members of the public and 150 MPs plus an MDU survey of 220 doctors showed that two thirds of public respondents (67%), around three out of four MPs (73%) and most doctors (88%) thought that if patients were negligently harmed as a result of NHS treatment, they should receive enough money to cover their health and social care needs provided by the NHS and local authorities.

Most respondents thought the £25.6 billion estimated liabilities for known and future claims in NHS hospitals was higher than expected (60% of the public, 71% of MPs and 76% of doctors).

The MDU wants caps on the level of damages awarded for future care, and an independent body to decide on the correct level of care required for all injured patients, not just those who can prove negligence.

Damages for loss of earnings should also be capped at three times the national average salary per year, it says.

“Patients who have been negligently harmed should receive fair compensation but the requirement to fund care to be delivered in the private sector does not reflect social or financial reality. The current out of date system needs to change in the interests of all patients and taxpayers.  We are calling on the government and policy makers to take this issue seriously and to act now to avoid a crisis,” said Dr Tompkins.

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