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The report by The Public Accounts Committee looking at financial pressures on the NHS rightfully criticises the government for being too slow to get to grips with the burgeoning cost of negligence. It found that the annual cost of clinical negligence for NHS trusts has quadrupled over the last decade (from £400 million in 2006/07 to £1.6 billion in 2016/17) diverting precious resources away from patients and frontline services. It also warned that the NHS’s defensive culture when things goes wrong needs to change.
As a medical negligence lawyer, I totally agree with the PAC’s analysis. Yes, sadly, the rising bill faced by the NHS for clinical negligence is predictable whilst a culture persists of a reluctance to learn from mistakes and in-built organisational barriers to this.
My clients do not take delight in suing the NHS. They would much rather have not experienced life changing injuries in the first place. Often these are not one-off mistakes either and the extent to which events leading to claims reoccur is shocking to those of us in the claimant lawyer community.
If MPs are saying that the primary way to tackle spiralling spend on clinical negligence litigation is to learn from clinical mistakes and to put in place procedures to prevent recurring errors, then at least the problem is being recognised. The next step is to effect positive change which is, of course, the tricky part.
I have 5 key recommendations for Mr Hunt to tackle to achieve that change:
Finally another area which is crying out for reform is the combative way the NHS deals with litigation claims. Inefficiency, delay and requiring claims to go deep into the litigation process are common before settlements are reached. If the defensive culture is changed and admissions of liability were made earlier than is typically the case at present, then there would be a demonstrable impact on the bottom line of the total litigation bill.
Many of my clients say their motivation in suing the NHS is not just financial compensation but to highlight errors made so that the NHS can learn important lessons. The PAC is right to point out that vital lessons – medical and cultural- are not being heeded by the NHS and change is urgently required.
If you have been affected by the issues discussed in this blog, please contact a member of our Clinical Negligence team. Alternatively, you can contact us on 020 7814 1200 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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