Latest figures show the cost of clinical negligence claims is continuing to rise despite a flattening of the number of claims, prompting medical defence bodies to urge the UK government to hasten reform of the legal processes.
In its annual report* NHS Resolution says that provision for claims indemnified had increased by £6.4bn to a record high of £83.4bn as of 31 March 2019.
In 2018/19 the NHS paid out £2.4bn on clinical negligence, up £137m on the previous year.
The number of claims has remained relatively stable, and the increase is largely due to high value claims
NHS Resolution said: “Overall, claims are falling as a proportion of the number of treatment episodes. However, the report highlights the concern around rising costs and the need for concerted action on all the drivers of clinical negligence costs.”
There was evidence of an increased engagement with ways to resolve concerns which keep patients and NHS staff out of court, accompanied by a welcome reduction in legal costs, the report added.
“There has been a noticeable culture shift in the clinical negligence market. We are now mediating more clinical negligence cases than ever before and these outnumber those going to trial by six to one. There is more to do but the benefits of mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution are clear: reducing the stress and burden on patients, NHS staff and their families and giving them the time and space to explore what happened.”
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) said urgent action is needed to tackle the enormous strain being placed on the NHS by the unaffordable rise in the cost of clinical negligence claims which “continues to spiral out of control”.
Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive said: “In 2018/19 NHS Resolution paid out £2.36bn in compensating patients through its clinical negligence schemes. This could have funded over fifteen million MRI scans or 112,000 liver transplants.
“While NHS Resolution reports that claims numbers have stabilised, it also states that compensation levels have risen by over 13%. High value claims settled often in excess of £20m. Such sums would have been unthinkable until recently.
“Every example of negligence takes its toll on the patients and families involved, but the spiralling compensation being paid out puts an enormous strain on NHS funding affecting all of us, and a balance must be struck.”
*Annual report and accounts 2018/19. A report prepared by NHS Resolution, July 2019.