Law firms charged a record £418 million last year after pursuing cases of medical blunders against the NHS, a Mail on Sunday investigation revealed (9 October 2016).
Their inquiries also expose how law firms are apparently prepared to excessively overcharge for their services while bringing complaints against the NHS. The revelations raise fresh concerns that the NHS is being bled dry by a compensation culture driven by opportunistic firms at a time when patients face ever-increasing waiting times for operations, overcrowded wards and difficulty in getting GP appointments.
The Mail on Sunday investigation went on to say……The astonishing £418 million bill – a 43 per cent rise on the previous year – would pay for 19,000 new nurses for the NHS, or 25,000 kidney transplants. In June last year, the then Health Minister Ben Gummer promised to cap the amounts law firms charged the NHS in cases where damages were under £100,000. But new figures from the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA), which fights medical negligence cases, show the problem is getting worse – with some firms submitting huge fees for relatively minor matters.
Dr James Davies, Conservative MP for Vale of Clwyd and a member of the Commons Health Select Committee, said: ‘As a GP, I have direct experience of the spiralling costs of medical defence cover. ‘Patients should have legal avenues open to them for true medical negligence, but some fees are grossly inflated and morally questionable.’
Dr Davies warned: ‘The NHS faces numerous pressures and it can do without ever-increasing litigation costs. Unless this situation can be tackled, such costs risk making the NHS unsustainable.’
The new system was due to come into force this month but has been delayed after an outcry by lawyers and patients’ groups, who say fixed costs will end up denying justice to those seeking important answers.
A consultation on the proposals is due to begin soon, said a Department of Health spokeswoman.
She added: ‘Safe, compassionate care is our priority and, to achieve this, the NHS must make sure every penny counts. Some lawyers have used claims to charge excessive costs to the NHS – in some cases more than the patient receives in compensation, and this can’t be right. Proposals are under way to cap excessive legal fees in clinical negligence claims, which will reduce clinical negligence costs.’
My thoughts: As someone who has been through the NHS Complaints system following the death of a daughter and having felt a desperate and tormenting need for justice: As someone who now is committed in training to help Trusts to listen to and help…and I mean really listen to and help those bringing a complaint using empathy and emotional development, I find this article very sad. With only 5-10% of people wanting financial recompense, and with the NHS doing in so many ways a very good job, in very difficult financial circumstances, I find the extortionate charges from lawyers unethical and unnecessary. Paying for a service is fair, of course it is, as skill and expertise is being paid for. But when it is taken from a budget that aims to help us all – and once more, most of the time does, should the the amount charged be fair too?Things will go wrong, none of us will ever be perfect and questions will always need to and should be answered and emotions and grief listened to, but cultural education, change and support for all involved should be at the heart of everything.
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